Thursday, 7 January 2010

We're not sufficiently unfriendly yet, then

So, a group of 20 MPs and peers has called for immigration to be capped to keep the UK population below 70 million.

Last year the Office for National Statistics said, if current trends continued, the UK population would rise by 10 million to more than 71.6 million by 2033 - the fastest rise in a century.

Now, firstly, of course, the latest ONS report says that last year's current trends, unsurprisingly, didn't in fact continue, and the population estimates have been revised downwards considerably. It's likely, therefore, that no matter what anyone does, the UK population will stay below 70 million for some time to come. The government can therefore do absolutely nothing and meet this policy anyway.

This doesn't stop this group making some unpleasant and inconsistent arguments to advance their case for a formal cap. After denying that this is about limiting non-Christian immigration, Lord Carey goes on:

But, he said, immigrants must "understand" the UK's culture, including parliamentary democracy "which is built upon Christian heritage", "our commitment to the English language" and an understanding of the country's history.

Much easier, of course, for immigrants from English-speaking majority-Christian countries such as the US or many Commonwealth countries, than for others. But this isn't about limiting non-Christian immigration at all. Really.

The system should not "give preference to any particular group", he said, but added that points-based immigration could take these cultural aspects into consideration.

So, they want to take cultural aspects into consideration in a way that gives certain people an advantage, but they don't want there to be an overall bias. I wonder what bonus points that are really hard for English-speaking Christians to pick up they want to include.

He added that immigration was an issue that mattered to "ordinary working-class people" and that it was important to tackle "that kind of resentment which could build and is building up already".

It's resentment that's building up because no prominent politician is willing to publicly challenge the myths around immigration and to argue that it's a good thing for the country, and a lot of unchallenged and generally accepted racism used to argue that it's a bad thing. So instead you have people arguing that we must cap our population at an arbitrary figure or some loosely specified crisis will ensue. What happens at 70 million that doesn't happen in largely the same way at 69 or 71? But no, round number equals crisis.

Lord Carey said too much population growth in the UK could foster "dangerous social conditions", with some minority ethnic groups, such as young Muslim men, suffering "disproportionate" unemployment.

So, some groups are disproportionately unemployed, for a number of complex reasons including racism in the recruitment process and racism and classism in the country more generally. The solution to this, apparently, should be to stop any more people from those groups coming to the country. I'm not sure how that will help either the people from those groups already here, or the potential immigrants we would reject under this policy, or indeed anyone else.

The high unemployment rate (which has also risen disproportionately during the recession) is a real problem, but the solution is definitely not to reinforce the existing racism by suggesting that further immigration from those groups should be heavily restricted. Furthermore, this high unemployment rate is also a problem for people whose families have been in the country for decades or centuries - it's not a case of people immigrating here and then being unable to find work.

"Poll after poll shows the public to be deeply concerned about immigration and its impact on our population."

I've done a few polls with questions about this myself for YouGov. The question they ask - and it may be different for other polling agencies - is to list a number of areas of government policy (health, education, defence, employment, etc.) including immigration, and to tick those that you are concerned about (or the three that you're most concerned about, sometimes).

I am quite concerned about the government's immigration policy - especially the horrific mess that is our asylum process, which is on many occasions intentionally inhumane. I never tick the "concerned about immigration" boxes on the surveys because there is such a strong assumption that anyone ticking that box does so because they think there is too much immigration. Pretending to be apathetic on those issues, while technically incorrect, seems safer.

"It is time parties turned their rhetoric into reality by making manifesto commitments to prevent our population reaching 70 million by 2029."

Well, yes, this is the core of the problem, isn't it. The government doesn't - as such - have a general problem with immigration or immigrants. The largest category of migrants to the UK is international students, who the government is very happy to have in the country because many pay substantial fees to universities, and in many cases effectively subsidise the Higher Education system for UK students.

On the other hand, the major parties believe that racism is a vote-winner (and most of the major newspapers try to push them this way), which means that they have to publicly come out against immigration in terms of rhetoric, and try to restrict it in areas that don't have that much actual effect, or against immigrants they don't particularly care about (asylum seekers, for instance).

Obviously, the actual effect of the policies doesn't match the rhetoric. I'd like to see the rhetoric adjusted to match the policies - for politicans to publicly state that the vast majority of immigration is either clearly economically beneficial to the country, or morally necessary as decent humans, since the alternative is to give in to the demands to adjust the policies to match the rhetoric. When the majority of the groups given press attention are calling for harsher policies, though, this is unlikely.