NEW POLL: What’s the liberal response to immigration?

by Stephen Tall on January 13, 2009

There’s a typically forthright article in today’s Times by David Aaronovitch excoriating all three major political parties for their pusillanimous response to the anti-immigration movement represented by Labour’s Frank Field and the Tories’ Nicholas Soames. His ire was provoked by BBC Radio 4’s Beyond Westminster programme (available here on iPlayer for the next few days) and specifically the responses of the politicians interviewed:

Not one of the pols, Chris Huhne, of the Lib Dems, Damian Green, of the Tories, or Phil Woolas, of Labour, could find anything good to say about immigration, except in passing on quickly to how tough they would all be. Mr Huhne: “Clearly we made a big mistake in allowing entry for new entrants to the EU when others didn’t.” But didn’t we get a lot of talent, he was asked. “Yes, we did,” he conceded, “but there is a pace of change issue and an absorption issue…” Oh heroic Huhne! And so we should have a “points system as operated in Australia” and – incidentally – as recommended by Migration Watch. … all [our pusillanimous partymen are] now involved in a revolting public auction to show who can be the “toughest” on the economic migrant – that miscreant who comes over and does our jobs and pays our taxes and adds to our pool of talent.

Aaronovitch has a point: most politicians, however liberal and progressive (and there are few much more liberal or progressive than Chris Huhne), find themselves on the defensive when it comes to immigration. Unlike media commentators, most politicians find themselves constantly berated by constituents whose discontent with council/government services is fuelled by media-inspired hysteria that it’s all the fault of Johnny Foreigner.

Aaronovitch didn’t, for example, choose to quote from this parliamentary speech by Chris last year, which sums up the party’s position of supporting managed immigration:

Immigration has brought enormous benefits to this country, economic, social and cultural. We must continue to be an open and tolerant society that looks out at the world with confidence, and not turn in on ourselves, fearing the phantoms of xenophobia. But if we are to sustain that vision, which has been so much a part of our own history and success, it must be on the basis of two strong conditions. The first is the integration of immigrant communities in our society on the basis of our common language and shared values, and the second is management of the system that controls our borders in the interests of all of us. On both those objectives, the Government have fallen down lamentably. The Liberal Democrats merely hope that the points-based immigration system will be a step towards the remedying of past failure.

My liberal instinct – as someone fully in favour of the free movement of labour, goods, capital and services – is for minimal/zero border controls and unlimited (im)migration. But I’m in the responsibility-free position of no longer being an elected politician. The truth is, though, that unless local and national governments predict and plan then public services begin to buckle under the strain of random population swells, causing problems both for the new settlers and existing communities.

Of course immigration has been generally positive for this country, and the vast majority of those who’ve come to the UK will become net contributors to the economy; but there is an up-front cost, and it’s naïve not to acknowledge it.

All this prompts me to ask you, LDV’s readers, what you think should be the basis of the UK’s response to immigration. Should we:

>> Open the borders, and impose no immigration restrictions
>> Have managed immigration, eg through a points system
>> Operate an annual cap on immigration, with work-permits strictly limited to 4-years
>> Close the borders, and accept no more immigrants

Those are the choices; eyes right to cast your votes in the poll; and feel free to mount a write-in campaign for your own preferred solution below…