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Why Are Politicians More Worried About Migration Than Education?

20/05/2015 10:32 BST | Updated 19/05/2016 10:59 BST

In recent weeks there has been one tragedy after another related to migrants. Desperate people are taking to the seas in Asia and Africa, hoping for a better life in a new country, but often finding that they are far from welcome in their new homes - if they live long enough to even get there.

Africa is close enough to Europe for people smugglers to make a fat living from selling places on boats destined for Malta or Italy. In Asia, Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladesh are marooned at sea hoping that somewhere in South East Asia will offer them refuge.

The Philippines recently offered to take some of the Asian migrants just as Europe has proposed building a new Naval force designed to seal off the European Union. Very few countries are open to this kind of migration despite signing up to UN treaties guaranteeing rights to refugees and asylum seekers.

This antipathy to migrants is becoming a major issue. One could easily argue that the collapse of the Labour party in the UK general election just over a week ago is related to the party no longer connecting to the hopes and fears of the working class citizen.

What do these 'normal' working people fear? One of their key fears is people migrating from overseas and 'stealing' their jobs. For too long many traditional political parties have dismissed these fears, but the UK Independence Party (UKIP) notched up 3.8 million votes in the recent election showing that for many citizens this is their primary concern. It cannot be denied that large numbers of migrants settling in the same place causes a squeeze on public services such as schools and hospitals, but is the fear justified?

UKIP want to leave the European Union entirely, therefore avoiding the need to honour the right to free labour movement. The Conservative party offered the public a referendum on whether the UK should stay inside the EU and the pressure is on Prime Minister Cameron to now name when this referendum will take place.

It's only natural for people from poorer countries to attempt to migrate to wealthier countries seeking a better life. This has taken place since people could afford to migrate and my own family moved from Ireland to the UK in search of work, but migration is not the only work-related issue facing politicians and society in general today.

Consider these three additional problems:

Globalisation; the Internet has created a robust global network that is used as the basic infrastructure for businesses of all sizes all over the world. I have met software developers in Bangladesh who have clients all over the world. I have worked with graphic designers in Vietnam. I personally work for many corporate clients spread over several continents. People can migrate to find jobs, but jobs can also migrate to find the people with the right skills. The delivery of services is now entirely global.

Automation; cars can already drive themselves, it won't be long before taxis and delivery trucks are self-managing. 3D printing is getting cheap enough to use from home or on the High Street so the customer can assemble their own products. Robots have already transformed manufacturing in industries such as automobiles, now they are set to transform every industry, automating basic services such as picking items in a warehouse or cleaning an office.

Nationalism; As the hard-working citizen continues to punch the clock, they will find that these challenges affect their job prospects. Highly-skilled jobs requiring expertise and problem-solving creativity have proliferated in the past few years along with low-level jobs where it is cheaper to employ a minimum-wage human to push a mop than to automate the process. But this means the middle-ground for jobs is hollowing out... competition at the lower end of the job spectrum is intensified with migration, automation, and globalisation all leading to a change in which jobs are available - and at what rate. The result is likely to be a desire to step away from the global system and to manage alone, free of global pressures.

This more complex story is what the politicians should really be addressing. Scottish Nationalism has already killed support for the Labour party. Fear of migrants stealing jobs is killing the support for all established parties who fail to be offering alternative ideas.

But the real answer for a twenty-first century Britain appears to have been ignored by all the political parties. Making it harder to migrate to the UK does not prevent Amazon using robots in their warehouses or every major company doing their IT, accounts, HR, research, and litigation offshore.

Improving the education system and making it easier to participate in a twenty-first century digital economy where people and companies are competing globally is the only long-term answer. But what is the most likely outcome of the recently elected Conservative government? Even higher tuition fees - wait for it to happen.

Unfortunately, none of our elected leaders appear capable of seeing beyond the next election. They might want to consider that China and India together create as many graduates each three years as the UK has working-age citizens.

This is an enormous debate and affects countries far beyond the UK, but the recent UK election demonstrates clearly how the public are losing faith in a traditional approach to politics. Democracy can be difficult for most politicians to swallow, but if they don't listen to the people it's going to choke them all.