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Friday, 16 April 2010

Labour's manifesto: Two Minute Hate: Criminals and Immigrants

Source: Free Movement

No responsible politician or political party would have a section of their manifesto for the coming election entitled ‘Crime and Immigration’, thereby lumping the two issues (and sets of people) together in an unholy juxtapositioning that plays right into the hands of the BNP, Migration Watch and their kind.

But that is exactly what Labour have done. They may as well have called it ‘Criminals and Immigrants’. All part of the Two Minute Hate.

On a slightly happier subject, there was an excellent article by Phillip Legrain on Saturday entitled Foreigners have not ‘taken’ new jobs, a response to Daily Mail claims in which he explains (again) that the idea there is a finite number of jobs in the economy is economic nonsense. There was also a good analysis piece by Jamie Doward in The Guardian on the misuse of statistics employed to justify such headlines.

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Blue sky thinking or cloudy days: What do the party manifestos mean for migrants in the UK?

Source: Migrant Rights Network

Everyone loves sunny days – they absolutely spell out hope and good times for those of us who are sick of being pale and cooped up in centrally heated rooms watching the rain chuck down outside. No wonder politicians love to talk about their ‘blue sky thinking’. But why is it then that the radical thinking and progressive perspectives behind the party manifestos this year cannot seem to get a handle on a more progressive perspective on immigration? Launch of the Labour and Conservative party manifestos this week has shown more of the same thinking when it comes to migrants – dark, gloomy and endlessly restrictive.

So what are the offerings from the main two players in the run-up to May 6th? Following the relative quiet on immigration issues recently, both parties have restricted their promises on wider immigration policy to short statements, trying to avoid accusations that they are ‘playing the immigration card’ too heavily to canvass votes. As for content, neither has given us anything to get excited about – the opposite in fact.

The immediate impression is how closely the Labour party manifesto conflates immigration with enforcement, control and punishment, in the ‘Crime and Immigration’ chapter. Here, economic immigration policy is lumped in with proposals on policing and counter-terrorism measures. As well as being downright depressing, this follows on from the broader message coming out of the government over recent years that immigration management ultimately centres around effective enforcement of the rules.

Beyond this, in terms of policy content, there is little that is new here…. The direction for immigration policy under a further Labour term seems likely to be more of the same, only more restrictive. The document focuses on a recap of the Labour government’s key policies over the past few years, including biometric visas & electronic border controls, the performance of the Points Based System, and the development of enforcement against ‘illegal immigration’ in the UK.

According to this manifesto, any existing flexibility within the immigration system would be used in one way only under Labour, to squeeze migrants. As such, we could expect cuts to migrants’ ability to work (”we will gradually tighten the criteria [of the Points Based System] in line with the needs of the British economy”); claim public benefits (”access to benefits and social housing will increasingly be reserved for British citizens and permanent residents”) and work for the public sector (”we will ensure that all [public sector] employees who have contact with the public possess an appropriate level of English language competence”). The Migration Impacts Fund would be expanded in some communities – likely to be paid for by increased costs for migrants.

In contrast to the ’same old but just a bit worse’ message from Labour, the Conservatives have been busy shooting themselves in the foot with the notion of an annual limit on skilled non-EU migrant workers, pretty much the only distinct policy on immigration that the Tories have noisily had up their sleeves over the past few months. By outlining this proposal, the Tories are attempting to send out a tough populist message on reducing immigration, whilst not annoying their traditional friends in the business community. The verdict? If the angry statements from the Confederation of British Industry, London First and KPMG today are anything to go by, the Tories’ immigration cap idea is pleasing no-one so far. And the Conservatives could likely expect the British public to be equally cheesed off when they failed to deliver on this absurd proposal which has been roundly rubbished from all corners as unworkable.

If migrants weren’t put off by the annual cap on skilled migration, they should take a look at the Tories proposed measures for foreign students, which would surely put the lid on the coffin of British universities already struggling with funding. In addition to stumping up for extortionate foreign student fees, migrants would also have to “pay a bond in order to study” in the UK. This sum would be returned to them when they leave our fair shores.

At the end of all it’s hard not to feel a little depressed about the state of future immigration policy – why are our politicians so trapped in a negative rhetoric on migration, seeming to believe that the public really wants more undeliverable policies on control and enforcement? Where is the real ‘blue sky thinking’ that would be brave enough to herald more progressive principles by introducing a more fair asylum system, ending indefinite immigration detention, lifting nonsensical restrictions on East European migrants to the UK, and supporting the real contribution made by supposedly ‘low skilled’ migrants to our economy? Cloudy days lie ahead…

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