Friday, 30 April 2010


It’s fair game to have a go at politicians at present. You can criticise them for everything from MPs’ expenses to not giving full and honest answers. But there’s a missing element in all this.

The public needs to play its part too. If it wants honest politics, it must be willing to recognise it when it sees it, and give it its due.

Nowhere has this been more clearly on display than over the role immigration is playing in this election.

We in the Liberal Democrats have been aware for a long time about people’s concerns about immigration. I personally don’t feel it’s as much of a threat as others do, and I feel some of the sensationalist media have whipped up a frenzy about foreigners claiming excessive benefits that bears little relation to reality. But sometimes the perception is as important as the reality, so it was something that had to be tackled.

So we tackled it. We set out to assess the current situation, to find out what the extent of the black market – some of it controlled by extremely nasty gangs – really is, and to work out a policy that is fair and makes sense.

What we’ve come up with is a proposal to be stricter with our border controls, and to make permission to come to this country conditional on whether the skills an immigrant can offer are needed in the area he/she wants to work in.

That has gone down very well, but the message has been distorted by how another aspect of our policy has been hijacked by those looking to score cheap points and discredit our ideas. I’m talking about what’s become known as our proposed ‘amnesty’.

We recognise that there are several hundred thousand people in this country who arrived illegally and are working in a shady underworld, often being paid by gangs, frequently in poor and threatening conditions. We’re saying that any of those who have been here for 10 years, speak good English and have no criminal record can apply to become legalised. Even then they wouldn’t have access to benefits for two years. That would mean we find out who a lot of these people are, and they'd start paying tax and contributing to the community.

I share the reservations of many that we’re retrospectively condoning something that was illegal – yes, that goes against the grain. But we have to start from where we are, not where we’d like to be, and our proposals are fair, constructive and make sense.

But now we have people screaming it’s an ‘amnesty’, that it’ll increase our rate of immigration (this has happened in some countries where they have had similar ‘amnesties’ but wouldn’t happen here because of our stricter border controls), and that we’re not listening to people. Instead, people are falling for David Cameron’s unspecified and unrealistic ‘cap’ on immigration, and the threats by both parties to deport immigrants. How can they deport people when they don’t even know where many of them are!

People must make up their own minds about which party best reflects what they stand for. But anyone pining for a better politics must also be willing to accept common sense solutions when presented to them, and not take refuge in a few carefully crafted sound bites that appeal to the heart but have little or no bearing on reality.


  1. Chris - please see my comments; 'Michael Vigor re Immigration Amnesty' on Recent Comments at 1330 today - The Lib Dem policy can only be the fairest as the 14 year amnesty has already been operated since the 1980s!
    Warm regards, MV, anti Con Party and labour hypocrisy zealot!

  2. Immigration eh? It's a tough one but personally I think 'Britain' deserves, no, should be obligated to take even more migrants.

    Lets face it, with out the raping and plundering of the 'Empire' for hundreds of years 'Britain' wouldn't be what is is today—make your own mind up if that's a good or bad thing.

    I know there should be restrictions as an economy can only support a certain amount of people but I despair at the current system of not letting asylum seekers work, pay taxes and generally contribute to our community. Because of this I whole heartedly agree with the LibDem's immigration proposal that you've outlined above.

    Here's to change and a fairer society for all of us.

  3. Chris, I have to say I am very disappointed in the Lib Dems position on immigration. Yes, the amnesty is the most liberal of the three main parties' policies, but why has a liberal party bought into the idea that immigration is a bad thing?

    There is no evidence that greater numbers of people in the UK keeps existing citizens out of work. New arrivals need jobs, but they also create jobs through their economic activity. Here's an interesting piece of research that shows how recent immigrants from Europe contribute significantly more in tax than they take in social welfare payments:

    Immigrants are also often willing and able to do the jobs lots of resident Brits can't or won't do. Many of our old folk would be without carers if it wasn't for the immigrants working in the care sector.

    A more diverse population helps a country refresh its ideas and push innovation forward – look to the US for examples of the way the children and grandchildren of immigrants are now shaping the world (Obama, the founders of google and youtube...). But also think about the UK's business sector – Tesco, Marks & Spencer, easyJet; all created by immigrants or children of immigrants.

    And in the arts; 22 of Britain’s 114 Nobel laureates were born abroad.
    There's lots more on this here:

    I believe that the current furore around the issue of immigration has nothing to do with real immigrants living and working in real cities. It is a projection of a whole host of political failures, particularly politicians' anxiety that 'the silent majority' dislike immigration and immigrants, so they must be tough on immigration or risk losing power.

    The truth is that the millions of people who came to Britain over the past decade are not responsible for Britain’s social and infrastructural
    problems. To blame the arrival of migrants for overcrowded trains,
    overstretched hospitals, the housing crisis, social security payment issues and ruptures in ‘social cohesion’ is to project political failings onto people arriving from overseas. It's akin to blaming a baby for the pensions crisis.

    If Britain’s public services are in disarray, and its communities divided, that is down to a lack of political vision and economic investment here at home, not the desires of people from abroad for a better life.

    Ultimately, the way to stop illegal immigration is to stop making
    immigration illegal. Your party should concentrate on solving the UK's infrastructure issues and creating a dynamic, open society, rather than limiting the inflow of new energy and talent. Labour and Conservatives are even worse on these issues, but there's not a great deal of distance between your party and those parties when it comes to the movement of people. Why are the Lib Dems taking a mainstream position on this issue?


    PS I'm really surprised to hear you agree that 'A married, heterosexual couple provide the best environment in which to raise a family.' Is that really your position?