Why control of immigration is not just for mugs

1st April, 2015 2:18 pm

Immigration policy is a popular target for criticism. Often the proposers of new ideas are called mugs, but here the problem is highlighted by a particular mug, of the ceramic kind.

The Labour Party is issuing new mugs that are branded with one of five new key pledges. Greatest attention has turned to the mug bearing the fourth pledge – “controls on immigration.” LabourList’s Maya Goodfellow wrote recently that the problem is that the mug is a painful reminder of “just how wrong Labour are on immigration.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 10.03.34

To be fair, Maya and I agree on several things. We agree that immigration has benefited the UK economy. We also agree that Labour needs to work harder to convince the public they have the best immigration policies to choose from.

But I disagree strongly that immigration control should not be a major pledge – and I fully support Ed Miliband on this. Let me explain why.

Fair controls on immigration are not about ending it. Nor is it about peddling myths, half-truths and worse to stoke unwarranted public fears.

Launching Labour’s election campaign, Miliband rightly said that “the Labour Party will never cut ourselves off from the rest of the world, but we are a party that believes in rules which protect working people.” These rules include ensuring everyone working in Britain receives no less than the minimum wage and migrants must have at least two years’ residency before claiming benefits.

These policies do not assume migrants are benefits scroungers any more than they do migrants work only for scraps. But they rightly link fairness for some to fairness for all. Fair immigration controls are a key and integral part to the idea of One Nation Labour.

The debate over immigration is one that Labour should win. Alternatives largely seek to tweak what Labour introduced. This fact needs to be broadcast more loudly. It was Labour that introduced the UK’s first points-based system, the formalisation of English language requirements, the launch of the citizenship test, codifying the rules on immigration requirements like good character to improve Home Office decision-making and the start of citizenship ceremonies. These are only some of the many policies that Labour governments introduced and are here to stay. When the Tories transform the citizenship test into a bad pub quiz or where UKIP call for an Australian points-based system, call them out on it. Labour has forged widespread agreement across parties on the fundamentals.

It is true that other parties have indulged in tweaking with the consequence of making things worse. There is the citizenship test debacle rendering a potentially helpful tool for integration I support unfit for purpose in its current form. There is also the coalition government’s poor judgement in scrapping the Migration Impacts Fund that raised funding from a levy on immigration application fees used to target areas of greater need to reduce migration-related pressures on public services. I’m not pretending the system is perfect, but it is worth fixing – and building off of the fair immigration controls that Labour introduced.

People are usually surprised to hear Labour did so much on immigration. One reason why is because these achievements aren’t trumpeted enough. The next government – of whatever party – urgently needs to launch a Citizenship Advisory Group to engage the public more so they know more about UK policies and so that these policies better reflect the public – it’s a two way street and time we minded the gap.

My interest is somewhat personal. I am a migrant. Worse, a non-EU migrant. I know about the Migration Impacts Fund because I paid into it. I know about the citizenship test because I took it and I’ve attended a citizenship ceremony, not as a spectator, but as a participant. I have serious concerns about negative stereotypes and inflammatory rhetoric. I recognise the importance of controls, but also their transparency and fairness.

And so this is why I support a future Labour government. I believe it is best placed to deliver the kind of fair controls we need. We shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about controls because the rules in place are largely of our own making – we can trumpet our achievements and how little the government has done with this other than make things much worse.

Now that I’m a UK citizen, I’m even more motivated to ensure we have a system that works and fair for all. Whatever our disagreements about coffee cup slogans, surely this larger picture is something we can be united on. The only mugs I dislike are those who say Labour has nothing to contribute on immigration policy.

Thom Brooks is Professor of Law and Government at Durham University. 

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  • ebc12

    So many taboo subjects.

    1. High numbers from Africa both legal and illegal. The illegals include so-called asylum seekers (see below). But how come so many legals? Native Nigerians in UK 2001 – 88,378. Ten years later: 180,000. ONS. (These figures exclude British born of Nigerian parents.)

    2. Left and liberal insistence upon calling illegals ”asylum seekers” when they have already passed through two or three countries which satisfy the requirements as places of safety. The Refugee Council defines asylum seeker technically: ”An asylum seeker is someone who has lodged an application for protection on the basis of the Refugee Convention or Article 3 of the ECHR.” This ignores choices of illegals to break laws to enter Britain from a place of safety.

    3. Pakistani born: In 2001- 321,167. By 20012 – 465,000. ONS. (These figures exclude Brits of Pakistani origin. How come so high? Use of arranged marriage to provide South Asians with entry visas?

    4. Every time the BBC covers immigration they go to Boston Lincs and show us Polish shops. What would be wrong about showing us African shops in Rye Lane in Peckham which has moved on from being a multicultural street through to the millennium since which time it has become an African street? Too sensitive. So let’s bash the Poles?

    • Rick

      Good post

  • Rick

    We cannot have effective immigration controls and stay in the EU !!!

    • That is not true. How do you think that everywhere else manages it?

      • bevinboy

        The UK seems to be a more desirable destination than anywhere else, hence all those people at Calais. Why is that?

        I do not know the answer but I cannot see how we can cope with 300, 000 a year going forward, without forcing wages down, without over taxing our infrastructure.

        • treborc1

          From within the EU, are not immigrants any more they are just people travelling over the United states of Europe .

          Africa well that maybe an issue but one we have never been able to deal with.

          • bevinboy

            But there IS no United States of Europe, if there was, the Euro problem would not exist. The EU would be a commonwealth.

        • MrSauce

          It is because the UK has lower unemployment and higher growth than most of the rest of Europe.

      • Steve Stubbs

        That’s exactly the problem. Nobody in the EU is managing it.

      • treborc1

        Come on they are struggling as well..

    • That is not true. How do you think that everywhere else manages it?

    • FMcGonigal

      We could use the points system to control non-EU immigration which is substantial.
      We could possibly renegotiate treaties to control EU immigration to some extent (with no certainty we would reach agreement).

  • Sunny Jim

    This subject is a minefield for us and usually results in a rearguard defence of 97-2010 policies.

    Swerve it if at all possible.

    • bevinboy

      I agree with the comment above that immigration is both good and bad, but I do not think “swerving ” the issue is going to be possible in some places, Especially in the north. A lot of people in my pub will vote UKIP because of it (or say they will).
      I am not sure any party can keep hiding from this.

  • Michael Worcester

    there is a lump of immigration fallacy where politicians say it is good or bad. The truth is that it is good and bad. Some contribute and integrate eg studies show that EU migrants are a positive contributor. Migration by marriage especially within one culture is the most disruptive as it re-enforced the ways of the old country and is somewhat abusive (the UK citizen motivation seems to do this to get a subservient spouse rather than it being a love match). The marriage age should be raised to 25 as is the case in Denmark to prevent abuse, the minimum income rule should be kept (Keith Vaz has spoke of it being too high), and cousin marriage should be banned as to the problems above are added the issue of inbreeding.

  • treborc1

    The mug was stupid and in response to UKIP , it is also saying labour will do something it totally failed to do before, because immigration was good it controlled wages for the middle class.

    UKIP are still making labour scared.

    Sorry but this is rubbish politics.

  • DanFilson

    You cannot appease xenophobes!

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