THE most one can say about the Conservatives’ general election manifesto is that it doesn’t go as far as Labour’s in capitulating completely on the issue of mass immigration. But let us come back to Labour.
Consideration of the Conservative manifesto should start with the recognition that, despite nine years of promises to do the opposite, the government allowed the level of net migration to reach an all-time record high on its watch in 2015/2016.
So it is very disconcerting to see that the party appears now to have, in the main, surrendered to an unholy alliance that combines the financial strength of big business and the woke-appeal of a powerful, ‘liberal’ immigration lobby.
There is nothing in the document which suggests any serious intention to reduce immigration in line with the wishes of 30million UK adults (for the basis of the 30million figure, see our paper.
That, perhaps, helps to explain why, in the manifesto pre-briefing, greater priority appeared to have been given to potholes and parking charges, with the topic of immigration largely swept under the carpet.
The manifesto itself lists as one of the party’s priorities the task of introducing ‘a firmer and fairer Australian-style points-based immigration system’. Apart from noting that most applicants will require a job and will need to speak English, there is little detail of what this means.
How will it offer any control on numbers once the work permit cap has been abandoned and the salary threshold has (likely) been lowered? Such proposed moves (put forward in the White Paper of December 2018) risk grave consequences in exacerbating our already burgeoning (largely because of immigration) population rise, now growing at the rate of a city the size Birmingham every three years.
Meanwhile, the promise to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands – an objective that was promised in three general elections and, as recently as last year, was supported by nearly three-quarters of the public and nearly 90 per cent of Conservative voters – has been binned.
The party promises to create ‘bespoke visa schemes for new migrants who will fill shortages in our public services’ rather than recognising that it was the failure of government and employers to invest in training and retaining UK recruits (highlighted by the Migration Advisory Committee in 2016) that greatly worsened such shortages in the first place.
During his recent ITV debate with Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson attacked Parliament for failing to deliver its promise on Brexit. Yet he has now gone back on the net migration pledge on which he and other Conservative MPs stood and were elected in multiple general elections. I wonder if David Cameron would even have got the opportunity to form a coalition with Nick Clegg had he not promised a serious effort to reduce immigration?
This manifesto suggests that ‘there will be fewer lower-skilled migrants and overall numbers will come down’. It is not impossible that the effect of changes to main routes of entry could result in a reduction in arrivals to low-skilled work.
Yet it does not necessarily follow that ‘overall numbers will come down’. The reason for this is that increases in mid-skilled workers (those with A-Level, but not graduate-level jobs) from around the world (who are at present excluded) couldexceed any reduction in low-skilled workers from the EU following the end of free movement.
Relying on conditions and criteria to deliver a notional reduction indirectly rather than applying a cap (or caps) toensurea reduction directly is simply trusting to luck rather than taking back control.
This thin-gruel manifesto does not suggest much appetite among party bosses for the firm measures needed to reduce immigration significantly. For instance, a 2017 promise to increase the income threshold for family visas that was ignored over the past two years has now also been quietly dropped.
It is a relief that there is no mention in the manifesto of Boris Johnson’s penchant for a mass amnesty for illegal immigrants. This misguided idea, first mooted when the PM was Mayor of London, is as dangerous (because it encourages more young people to take a chance and risk their lives) as it is futile.
As I have mentioned before, Italy, Spain and France have tried it umpteen times and found that ultimately all that happens is that the number benefiting from an amnesty goes up. It also rewards illegal behaviour by those entering the UK without permission or overstaying their visas.
It is instructive to relate this bland and aimless manifesto (at least with regard to immigration) with two documents that were released or leaked over the past two years.
A Home Office paper on immigration that was leaked and published by The Guardian in September 2017 pointed out that ‘sharply increased levels of net migration since 1997 have given rise to public concern about pressure on public services and wages’. It added that: ‘High levels of net migration are not inevitable’.And yet this manifesto seems to accept the current scale as the norm – with an electoral shrug of the shoulders.
Secondly, a report by the Migration Advisory Committee that was issued in 2018 noted that that ‘higher population may lead to increased congestion’ (p.13), that ‘increases in population do lead to heightened demand for public services’ (p.82), that immigration has ‘increased house prices’ (p.3), can ‘reduce access to social housing for the UK-born’(p.95), that ‘there is… some evidence suggesting that migration has slightly reduced employment opportunities for the UK-born, especially for the lower-skilled’ (p.110) and that ‘some evidence shows a small negative effect of migration on earnings at the lower end of the wage distribution …’
The manifesto does not reflect public views. A recent YouGov poll found that 54 per cent said immigration is too high and only seven per cent said it is too low. Many are concerned at the speed with which large-scale immigration has transformed entire communities and is impacting on the intricate tapestry of British tradition and identity.
Indeed, this Conservative manifesto is remarkable for the fact that it does not even contain so much as a nod in the direction of the potential costs of immigration listed above.
But it isn’t all bad. The promise in the manifesto to increase the immigration health surcharge for those coming here is to be welcomed. This will help ease the added budgetary pressures on the health service.
Who could reasonably argue against an appropriate contribution from anyone coming for a protracted period and who has not yet paid into the exchequer? And we are not here talking about emergency treatment that may be necessary for those here on holiday or a brief visit; this is free already and will continue to be so.
It is also good to see the pledge for more training of nurses, with student nurses ‘receiving a £5,000 to £8,000 annual maintenance grant during their course to help with the cost of living’ which they will not have to pay back. This is a reversal of the disastrous 2017 decision to abolish bursaries for trainee nurses, which only exacerbated the problem of staff shortages.
I promised to return to the Labour manifesto. If the Conservative manifesto leaves much to be desired then it is undeniable that Labour’s plans are infinitely worse. Indeed, as Andrew (Lord) Green pointed out on the Conservative Home website this week concealed in Labour’s proposals is a threat to the future of our country.
The party’s manifesto, in line with Labour conference resolution (see full text here), makes no commitment that free movement will end after Brexit, always assuming that Brexit happens under Labour. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Mr Corbyn’s Labour Party is instinctively in favour of looser controls and pretty much open borders.
The suggestion that free movement would not only be maintained but also ‘extended’ (to countries around the world?) would be dynamiting an already leaky dam, with a flood of unskilled migration the likely consequence.
Moreover, the policy backed by the Labour conference of ‘an unconditional right to family reunion’ would drive an unprecedented inflow from poorer countries, posing a serious risk to integration; difficult enough when mass movements of people have been the order of the day for 20 years.
The Labour conference also approved a policy to give the right to vote in general elections to millions of residents who are not UK citizens. Even former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett called this a ‘reckless policy to throw open not only our borders but our system of democracy’, as well as an attempt to ‘gerrymander the national vote’.
There are those who say that mass immigration is integral to the Left’s (now hard-Left’s) longer-term aim of increasing the size of the migrant community so as to cement Left-wing power. This appears to have been one of the aims of Labour’s policy changes under Tony Blair.
The Liberal Democrats have pledged to keep free movement, jettison sensible measures aimed at deterring illegal immigration and to move policymaking on work permits and student visas out of the Home Office and respectively into the Departments for Business and for Education.
Their proposals are quarter-baked, at best. The scope for widescale abuse, with which the Government only got to grips from about 2014 onwards, would be pushed to warp speed and we could only expect an explosion in net migration levels.
We should also refer to the Brexit Party. Nigel Farage struck the right tone on illegal immigration when he launched his party’s manifesto when he said the ‘EU has made an awful mess of saying anyone who set foot on EU soil can stay … You cannot have policies that encourage illegal people traffickers to flourish’. Accordingly, the party’s Contract with the People pledges to ‘crack down on illegal immigration and stop the human tragedy associated with human trafficking’.
However, reports that Farage had pledged to reduce net migration to 50,000 per year turned out to be wide of the mark. An internal Brexit Party note revealed that the pledge of 50,000 would apply only to annual grants of settlement (of which there were 85,000 in the most recent year).
Despite misleading reporting (for instance by the BBC), this would not reduce net migration (currently averaging about 250,000 per year over the past decade) to anywhere near 50,000.
So, of the four non-nationalist parties that are likely to secure the bulk of the votes on December 12, none come anywhere near proposing the policies needed for a realistic attempt at reducing immigration in any meaningful way.
Of the two parties likely to head a future government, one, the Tories, has offered a mealy-mouthed and unconvincing commitment to reducing immigration, while the other, Labour, has made clear that the present arrangements with the EU will not only be maintained but could, potentially, be extended to the rest of the world.
One can only despair at this casual and complacent approach. Any candidates who turn up on the doorstep should be made very clear just what the views of real people are on this critically important issue.