Thursday 4 April 2013

Clegg, immigration and and a triangulation too far.

When Nick Clegg bravely  proclaimed and robustly defended Liberal Democrat policy on immigration in the Leaders' Debates before the last election I was very proud to be in the same party. In  particular, regardless of the scorn of the other two, and the likelihood of vitriolic headlines in the following day's Daily Mail, Nick stuck to our guns and called for an amnesty on those otherwise law-abiding immigrants who had been here illegally for ten years.

I'm not quite sure to what extent Nick has now modified our policy, but it is sufficient to permit John Kampfner, in yesterday's Guardian, to write: " On immigration the three leaders find themselves dancing to Ukip's tune."

My own stand on immigration starts from the fact that I am grateful to have been born in a country to which people want to come rather than from which people wish to leave. This of course was  a stroke of good fortune which owed nothing to my own planning or virtuous endeavours.  Beyond that starting point, the level of desirable immigration needs to be determined by the facts rather than innuendo designed either to sell newspapers or win votes cheaply.

The following, lifted from a blog by Peter Watt, former general secretary of the Labour Party, admirably describes the scope of the necessary evidence-based debate:

The debate focuses on a number of key themes:
  • Does immigration benefit or costs the economy?
  • Do immigrants get preferential treatment?
  • The extent to which we can “control” our borders as members of the EU.
  • Is there an increase in pressure on public services?
  • The alleged abuse of asylum status.
  • The extent to which immigration changes communities and people’s attitudes to this change.
The answers are complex and much debated in homes, streets and indeed by our politicians.  The truth is that of course we are economically benefitting from immigration.  On the whole those arriving are younger and are employed.  They pay taxes and don’t really need to access health services and rarely claim benefits.  But also that there are some areas where there has been pressure on local services that were initially ill prepared like GPs and schools.   The impact of “changing communities” is however harder to gauge.

Personally I am completely unconcerned that the number of accents that I hear in shops or on the bus has increased massively.  I like the fact that my children have friends from a huge variety of different backgrounds – certainly they aren’t worried! And I am very proud of our history of welcoming those fleeing persecution.  I suspect that many people feel the same as me.

In these final two years of this parliament we Liberal Democrats are anxious to emphasise our distinctive identity, policies and achievements is government.  Nick's bravery in those early debates earned earned admiration for himself and support for the party.  Similar courage and pride in our principles rather than shifty compromise should be the order of today.

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