Calling UKIP racist won't dampen their support

The best way to address the party's success is to acknowledge that the EU isn't perfect, and change the way we deal with immigration



This year's European elections have rarely been so newsworthy. The reason? UKIP. The latest polls predict they will come top, and capture almost one-third of the vote.

The left has come up with a range of ideas for responding to the party's rise in popularity. Some propose highlighting the major economic benefits of being part of the EU. Others propose calling the party racist.

However, a better strategy would be to acknowledge the challenges created by EU membership.

Yesterday, the Migration Matters Trust launched a social media campaign branding UKIP’s ideas as tantamount to "Euracism". Over the last year, UKIP has had particular trouble distancing itself from the views of some of their members, and their most recent posters have been labelled by many as xenophobic.

However, accusing UKIP of "Euracism" doesn't acknowledge the growing support for the policies and solutions that they are proposing.

Concern about EU immigration is at the heart of today's anti-EU sentiments. On one hand, free movement within the EU is good for the UK. It has improved the efficiency of European labour markets, created opportunities for cultural and educational exchange, and allowed people to permanently relocate to another country, whether it's for family reasons or retirement.

Yet it is still deeply unpopular. According to opinion polls, the majority of voters want David Cameron to put an end to free movement.

New IPPR research shows that some of this unpopularity is born out of genuine concerns. Free movement is good for the UK, but it could work better. Inflows of new migrants to an area can place strains on public services and unregulated job markets. Anyone can acknowledge this fact – it does not, and should not, make you prejudiced.

To date the government have responded to the unpopularity of free movement by restricting the access migrants have to benefits. This has been done as a way to tackle "benefit tourism" and to bring down numbers.

This solution will be largely ineffective. The evidence for so-called benefit tourism is limited, so restricting eligibility is unlikely to reduce numbers. And crucially, it does little to respond to meaningful concerns about stretched budgets and integration at a local level.

The UK needs to acknowledge that we live in an era of high migration, and equip local areas with ways to respond.Census results date quickly, and councils struggle to get the resources they need to accommodate a higher population.

Action here does not need to be expensive nor require complex renegotiation within Europe. One such measure would be to require all new arrivals (migrant and non-migrant) to register with the council.

This would give better data that would allow schools to better plan for new arrivals. It would also let councils help new residents integrate, putting them in touch with a GP or alerting them to volunteering opportunities nearby.

European free movement has been good for the UK, but that doesn’t mean it can't be better. You can label political tactics as scaremongering all you want, but what we really need are local immigration reforms. Then we can start to think about where we stand nationally.

Jenny Pennington is a Researcher at IPPR

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