Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The politics of immigration

Three pieces of interest. The first is from Danny Finkelstein who raises the question: if immigration, as it seems south of the border, such a hot political issue, why doesn't it register at the ballot box?
"...the 'immigration mystery': when the Conservative Party made immigration control a central feature of its election campaign, it was a complete flop. Commentators are left with an issue that voters care about passionately and that has been badly mishandled by the Government, but loses rather than wins votes for the Opposition party. How does that work?"
His answer lies in the idea, basically, that elections are won by the fickle middle classes, rather than working class voters resentful about immigration. It's an interesting piece but I think the answer to the 'mystery' is more simple than that: regardless of social class, immigration while registering as an issue with voters, it is way down the list of priorities behind the economy, taxation, crime, health and education.

This is why Hague lost. A majority of the electorate agreed with the Tory policies on immigration and the Euro but Labour were ahead on the big five. Relatively-speaking, immigration simply is not an important electoral issue and political parties bang on about it at their peril.

Meanwhile, Chris Dillow has some issues about the economic reasoning behind the government's points-system for migrant labour - he argues there isn't any:
"Why is there no reference to the possibility of free migration, or the benefits thereof? Why, for that matter, are the arguments against immigration - the social costs of non-homogenous communities - not considered and rejected? Could it be that New Labour is just scared to make the case, and that it just wants to appear to be in control of migration?"
Can't be sure, but I think the answer to that is probably yes.

One of the reasons for the uncertainty is that I don't follow the English debate in any great detail. Here politically immigration barely registers - there is essentially a cross-party agreement that in Scotland we need more of it. We've always been good at exporting our population. In the 19th century, there were significant outflows of population from the Highlands abroad, but this was more than compensated for by the influx of Irish and by increasing birth rates. We're still exporting our population but we seem to have lost the breeding habit, and the Irish don't find Scotland so attractive for obvious economic reasons. This leaves immigration as the only viable short-term solution to population decline - hence the different arrangement for Scotland:
"IMMIGRANTS wishing to settle in Scotland will now have to live here for just two years before being granted residency, after the government halved the qualifying time in an effort to boost the population north of the Border - while making it more difficult to settle in England."
Solve population decline: settlers in, more sex, less contraception. There's something for everyone there. Potential winning slogan for the Scottish Tories to show that they are both modern, tolerant and outward-looking yet in touch with traditional family values and all that. Don't think they'll go for it though.

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