Two academics, Caitlin Milazzo and Matthew Goodwin, have followed the progress of UKIP closely, and over the last year or so have conducted a large number of interviews with elected members, staff and supporters. While maintaining a spirit of impartial enquiry, they have always come across as broadly sympathetic to the Party, and I myself was happy to talk to them.
All the more pity, then, that the serialisation of their book (“UKIP: Inside the Campaign to Redraw the Map of British Politics”) in The Times seems to have dropped the cloak of academic impartiality, and adopted the worst aspects of tabloid journalism. Moreover it is difficult to believe that the timing is anything more than a deliberate effort by The Times – never a friend of the Party – to damage UKIP’s prospects in the up-coming Oldham by-election. There, I think, it will fail.
The book (as serialised) takes the typical debates on policy and nuances of approach, which are the small change of all political parties, and seeks to turn them into a titanic battle of wills between Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell. Nigel and Douglas are both larger-than-life characters – one the charismatic leader of an insurgent party, populist in a good way, and one of the best communicators in British politics; the other, the party’s only Westminster MP (for now), a political philosopher with a much more restrained and intellectual style.
One issue in particular was highlighted as an area of conflict: that of immigration. There is of course room for legitimate debate about the emphasis which we as a party should put on the question. Is it right to place great emphasis on an issue which we know is a #1 concern on the doorstep? Or do we risk having our opponents characterise us as cruel and heartless – or worse?
There are those who say our primary purpose is to secure the independence of our country, and that immigration is a secondary issue. Yet as with so many of our problems in Britain, the EU is at the heart of our immigration issue, and cannot be ignored.
But surely we must recognise it as an unalloyed good for the British body politic that UKIP, almost single-handed, has brought this key public policy issue out of the closet and into the public square. It is scandalous that for years no one could raise the immigration issue, however moderately, without a torrent of accusations of racism. Now at least we can discuss it rationally.
And indeed few can argue that UKIP’s immigration policy is anything but fair, balanced and reasonable. By contrast I would argue that the immigration policy which our current Conservative government is operating is in effect (if not in intention) highly discriminatory. Because of EU free movement rules, we discriminate in favour of unskilled or low-skilled (and predominantly white) Eastern Europeans, and against (for example) brain surgeons and software engineers from Commonwealth countries, many of whom are non-white. We’re starting to see resentment amongst ethnic British citizens who find that they can’t get a visa to bring in mother-in-law for a family wedding, while Europeans with no UK connections can come freely.
UKIP on the other hand wants (A) an agreed limit on annual migration, to ensure that it doesn’t place undue strain on social cohesion and social infrastructure, while at the same time allowing employers to fill skill shortages and bring in essential staff; (B) within the overall limit, a selection process based solely on skills and qualifications – a points-based system on the Australian model. Absolutely no discrimination on grounds of race, colour or ethnicity. It is a policy which all of us in the Party can embrace with confidence and pride, knowing that it responds to a key theme of public concern.
Now let me stray off-piste (My favourite Terry Wogan line, by the way: “Suivez la piste! Follow that drunken woman!”) and venture a personal view which goes some way beyond party policy. We have obligations in international law to offer asylum to those with a well-founded fear of their lives. But the rules were drawn up, and the obligations entered into, when no one envisaged mass migration on the scale we are seeing today.
The theory is that we assess each individual applicant, determine whether they have a genuine claim, and deal with them accordingly. But we now face (on a very conservative estimate) at least a million arrivals in Europe in a year. Some of these people would qualify as refugees. Most are economic migrants. Many have no identification papers. Many have deliberately thrown away their papers in transit. Some have been schooled by traffickers in the answers they should give. Others have obtained false passports – reported to be readily available in the Balkans and the Eastern Med.
When, on Question Time recently, I asked how Simon Schama knew that a particular asylum applicant was Syrian, he replied “Of course he was Syrian – he spoke Arabic!” – as though Arabic were not a widespread language spoken across the Middle East and North Africa. I suggest that it is simply impossible to deliver any kind of fair analysis of the refugee status of these huge numbers. Simply as an administrative process, it becomes impossible on this scale, as several European countries seem to be finding out. Then consider the venal lawyers who will facilitate appeals processes in the name of “Human Rights”, and we shall have a process that lasts decades, and places impossible strains on our immigration services and courts.
The only solution, it seems to me, is to control our borders, and prevent arrivals. Yes, rescue the drowning in the Med – but don’t bring them to Europe. Yes – provide facilities for asylum applications at British Embassies abroad, and in locations close to war zones and refugee camps. But let no migrant seek to come to the UK without a visa.
I dismiss out-of-hand the talk of “climate refugees” (as though there had been no floods or droughts or wars before 1970). But I do expect further large-scale migration in coming decades, resulting from population pressures, wars, the growth of Islamic extremism, and downright bad governance and corruption. But the old systems of asylum and immigration are broken, and cannot be patched together. It’s time for new thinking.