I am a regular reader of your columns, and generally speaking an admirer of your practical and common-sense approach to political issues. However I have recently noticed an increasingly pro-Tory and anti-UKIP bias, which I fear is leading you down some logical cul-de-sacs. Your piece “Leaving the EU wouldn’t solve Britain’s immigration problem” is a case in point.
You write: “The (immigration) debate is polarised — those in favour will not accept that there are any drawbacks, while those against will not admit any advantage. So voters … struggle to find any politician with whom to have a sensible conversation — which creates space for parties like UKIP”. I fear you’ve allowed yourself to be taken in by anti-UKIP propaganda, which at best is a lazy attitude, and at worst is dangerously misleading. You don’t actually say so, but the implication is that UKIP is no more than a populist party with a one-dimensional view of the issue. Our opponents like to accuse us of wanting to “pull up the drawbridge” and even “to send foreigners home”.
None of this is true. In fact ironically we are exactly what you seem to be asking for — a party which has the courage to address the issue, and is prepared to see, and admit, both the benefits and the problems of mass immigration, and to address them in a fair, balanced and reasonable way.
We understand that Britain is a nation of immigrants. We agree that immigrants have made great contributions to this country’s culture and to its economy (though we doubt that overall immigration has a positive effect onper capita GDP, and therefore on the prosperity of our citizens). We are clear that we need immigrants to meet the staffing and skills needs of British industry (including short-term, lower-income seasonal labour in agriculture), though we also see the need for improved education and vocational training to enable our own people to fill those needs as far as possible.
But we see the down-sides too. You say that “Remarkably, Britain does have enough jobs to go round”, as though that were game, set and match. Yes Fraser, but enough houses? Enough school places (including suitable education for the many children who don’t speak English fluently)? Enough capacity in our health service and hospitals? Enough road space? And beyond the stresses on our physical and social infrastructure, it is clear that when the pace of change becomes too rapid, that represents a threat to social cohesion, and breeds the very fear and resentment which leads to negative attitudes. We want immigrants to be accepted and to integrate, and that becomes much more challenging when the numbers are too large.
We also recognise (as far too few politicians do) that the UK’s current immigration policy is profoundly discriminatory. It severely restricts non-EU immigrants, while offering carte blanche to “EU Citizens”. It discriminates against the brightest and best from the Commonwealth and elsewhere — the Australian brain surgeon, the Canadian nuclear physicist, the Indian engineer — and in favour of the poor and unskilled from Europe, who arguably include many attracted by our generous welfare system, and health care, and (to them) high wages. That’s unfair, and it’s foolish. It’s damaging our economy for British people and immigrants alike. We recall that the people who suffer most from the next wave of immigrants are the last wave of immigrants.
I imagine, Fraser, that you have a certain respect for the late great Milton Friedman. I believe he pointed out that you can have free healthcare, or you can have open borders, but you cannot have both. The UK’s current immigration policy looks more and more like a set-piece demonstration of the proof of Friedman’s dictum.
So you may be right that leaving the EU, by itself, won’t necessarily solve the problem. But we won’t solve it without leaving the EU. It’s a necessary but not a sufficient condition. We will also need a points-based system to assess skills, and we will need proper border controls, which we currently lack.
And in another sense you are right, as well. If voters are looking for a rational, balanced discussion of immigration — if they want an immigration policy that will be fair, and balanced, and good for our economy — then UKIP is the only party to talk to.