The Conservatives have offered a rather peculiar new pledge: another two million jobs. They are right to focus on their record job creation, as I outlined in my Spectator cover story on the jobs miracle. But I also discussed, then, how there are already now massive worker shortages in certain parts of the country – and employers in places like Poole can’t get enough immigrants.
In several parts of the country, we are already hitting what economists call ‘full employment’. Cameron’s target should not be x more workers, but unemployment reduction – or, ‘full employment’ in every part of the UK. You can do that by shortening dole queues. This, and only this, should be the focus of a sensible government. As things stand, I suspect Cameron’s target of two million new workers can only be achieved by importing another million immigrants. And I’m not sure how that squares with the rest of his election message about controlling borders and cutting down workers from the EU, etc. As he said, if the UK is creating jobs then what’s to stop unemployed of Italy, Spain and Greece taking them? (See graphic, below)
As the above chart shows, he needed 880,000 foreign-born workers to get to 1.9 million new workers over this Parliament, and I can’t see his formula – one immigrant for every two jobs created – changing very much. Cameron’s new 2m-jobs pledge risks repeating the Labour mistake: judging an economic recovery on the crude number of jobs created. This figure can be artificially inflated by immigration; indeed two-thirds of the rise in employment under Labour was the product of immigration. Under the Coalition this ratio fell to half. Personally, I don’t think a million more immigrants would be the end of the world – to the chagrin of some Coffee Housers, I think that, on the whole, immigration has changed Britain for the better. But if Cameron does think we will need another million immigrants to grow the economy at the speed he wants, he’d really need to say so. And then explain how we’ll build the housing, school places and NHS capacity for them.
Fundamentally, you need to be honest with voters about all this. Cameron can either have net immigration down to the ‘tens of thousands’ or he can have 2m new jobs. He can’t have both.