The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Alex Porter Headshot

Immigration: Is a Sensible Debate Impossible?

Posted: Updated:

Following the introduction of Bulgaria and Romania into the European Union, a huge influx of migrants was expected from the new Eastern frontier. Much of the political right speculated a flooding of benefit tourists, looking to scrounge off the welfare state and public services, while home secretary, Theresa May claimed that for every additional 100 immigrants, 23 British workers would not find employment.

However, a panel this week declared that the actual number migrating from the two countries has shown no discernible increase since January. This evidence serves to vindicate accusations of scaremongering by the right. Although, the equally dogmatic response by many on the left is also highly dubious, arguing mass immigration has few, if any, negative repercussions and branding all who disagree as xenophobes.

Responses on the issue from some of the most vocal activists on the left, such as Laurie Penny or Owen Jones, are usually deeply self-righteous and increasingly detached from those less advantaged communities that will be most affected by increased immigration. In his latest book, "Exodus", Sir Paul Collier condemns liberal intellectuals for dismissing concerns about migration as being "cavalier". As Collier highlights, it is not the middle classes, but the indigenous poor who will be at risk of any ill effects.

One of the most frustrating arguments to hear coming from the left is that without continued increases in net migration, Britain's economy cannot maintain growth at the rate of other European states. A recent editorial in the New Statesman applauded news from the CEBR that, while Germany's population is likely to sharply decline over the next few decades, the UK's is expected to rise to 75million, overtaking Germany as the biggest country in Europe. With a landmass less than one and a half times that of the Germany's, will a rapidly growing population, and the pressures this brings, be such a good thing for the UK?

Surely the purpose of growth is to improve the lives of a country's citizens, not growth for growth's sake. Given Miliband's recent success in highlighting the 'cost of living crisis', it is disappointing to see writers on the left yield to a purely macroeconomic debate on immigration, allowing attention to stray once more to the central recovery at the expense of considering the continued difficulties being faced by the average family.

One does not have to be anti-immigrant, anti-Europe or xenophobic to question the mass immigration that occurred under New Labour. The Labour Party has increasingly distanced itself from the policy over the last year, with Ed Miliband promising a tougher line on immigration if elected, and Tristram Hunt making measured comments on the effect of mass immigration on the academic performance of white boys. Unsurprisingly, Hunt's remarks were shot down by Owen Jones on Twitter later that day, as those with such dogmatic views refuse to engage in more nuanced debate or recognise the downsides of immigration.

It is easy to see how those suffering most from the state of the economy see merit in the arguments of Ukip, when the loudest liberal voices lambast them for acknowledging the changes in their communities - from the near-total segregation experienced in some areas, to increased pressure on public services and infrastructure and vastly increased competition for jobs.

As long as the debate on immigration is hijacked by the most self-righteous on the left and those pursuing a divisive, xenophobic, anti-welfare agenda on the right, a sensible discussion remains out of the question. If such extremism and infighting among the political classes continue to dominate the debate, the concerns of ordinary people will doubtless go ignored for the sake of political point-scoring.

Around the Web

Visas and immigration - GOV.UK

Immigration to the United Kingdom since Irish independence ...

Tory backbenchers urge party to tone down immigration rhetoric

Europe takes UK to court over benefits

Ministers fuelled anti-immigrant prejudice, say MPs