Ukip has unveiled its new Aussie-style immigration policy, just a week after the latest bad immigration news for the government. The news was bad only in a sense, as high immigration levels are a symptom of a healthy economy; after all, the Venezuelan government doesn’t break into a sweat every time the immigration figures come in, thanks to the genius of Chavenomics. But it’s all bad news for the Tories because most people would like restrictions on the rate of population growth, and of immigration-led social change, and the government made promises it clearly couldn’t keep.
Yet the British economy is doing well and Ukip realise therefore that there is a danger with ambitious pledges to reduce the number of newcomers; instead the most effective way to deal with it is to focus on quality rather than quantity, which is what the Aussies do. This is the only way they get around the fact that there are two separate, though interlinked, issues involved with immigration – the economic and the social.
Even if the number of British emigrants equals the number of newcomers, there is a social cost to migration. Few argue about the social aspect because opponents of change know it feels unpleasant and racist and supporters understand it’s widely unpopular; so instead the former and latter both focus on economics and European immigration, a proxy debate of lesser importance in the long term.
Migration statistics therefore do not necessarily reflect what people fear about migration. Firstly the question of net migration is partly irrelevant, since in one sense Britain has a problem with emigration, and the large number of highly skilled Britons leaving the country is disturbing. We often hear how migrants are more likely to have higher levels of education than natives, but that is partly because the educated and skilled are more likely to move country generally; the fact that well-educated Britons are leaving in such large numbers is strangely not discussed. People wanting to leave the country should worry us more than people wanting to arrive.
Another unspoken aspect of the argument that immigrants are more skilled and dynamic is that there are significant differences in migration from rich and poor countries. It would be far more useful if immigration statistics were broken down into movement from developed, developing and less developed countries. As I have previously stated, there is no such thing as an ‘immigrant’, and lumping them together makes no logical sense.
Immigration from Germany is an economic benefit and brings virtually zero social cost, and the flow of movement runs both ways (more Brits are on benefits in Germany than vice versa); so why bother lumping migration from Germany in with, say, Pakistan or Bangladesh where migration is almost entirely one-way and the risk of ghettoisation and other social costs is high. Migration from Pakistan is a concern of the Government’s long-term social policy; migration from Germany should be only of interest to stat-wads. Yet the social cost is underplayed because much of the Conservative Party belongs to a sort of Utopian Right on migration, believing what matters is whether an immigrant (economically) contributes to the country.
Actually what matters is what his or her children and grandchildren do, since this is where the problems of alienation really begin. Last week’s survey on Muslim attitudes, as dozens of previous polls did, showed the younger, British-raised generation to be more hard-line in their attitudes. Alienation, of both natives and migrants, is at the heart of mass immigration, something statistics involving company executives moving their family from one rich country to another don’t show. If a guy works at two jobs to feed his family and his sons are running off to Syria to behead people because they’re alienated by British society, that’s a net cost to Britain in the long run. But then in the long run, as any modern Conservative utopian will tell you, we’re all dead.
The era of stable governments is over
Join us on 23 March for a Spectator discussion on whether the era of stable government is over with Matthew Parris, James Forsyth, Jeremy Browne MP, Vernon Bogdanor and Matthew Goodwin. The event will be chaired by Andrew Neil. In association with Seven Investment Management. For tickets and further information click here.