The case for migration is a compelling one, don't let Miliband's introspection on election defeat drown it out

The attack on New Labour's mass migration policy must be confronted, not 'triangulated' away

Share
Related Topics

Over the past few months there has been a concerted attack, from across the political spectrum, on the last Labour Government’s record on immigration. I was a Minister in that government. And I believe Labour has a record on immigration it can be proud of.

When I was told I was moving from Treasury to become Immigration and Asylum Minister, I was dismayed. I enjoyed the Treasury, and knew I’d now be on a hiding to nothing from both left and right.

Labour secured power without anticipating how immigration would come to dominate the political landscape. Being “tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime” were the Home Office priorities. This suited officials, who prefer criminal justice policy to the operational complexities of asylum and immigration.

The Home Office I joined wasn’t in a position to deal with these complexities. The Conservatives' new computer system proved an expensive failure, and voluntary redundancies in the Immigration and Nationality Department had created a backlog of over 50,000 cases. When I arrived I was told there were only fifty officials able to make decisions on asylum cases. Every month more applications were made than decisions given. Which isn’t a reflection on rank and file civil servants, many of whom were trying to do a very good job.

At that time asylum, not immigration, was the issue; and the debate was polarised.  Our duty was to grant refugee status for those with well founded cases, whilst returning those whose claims were unfounded. However, returns are easy in theory but complex, and often distressing, in practice. Passports are destroyed, countries refuse unsuccessful applicants, detention can be needed. And behind the statistics are individuals and families for whom Britain has become home.

There was, however, very little consideration of broader immigration policy. In my first few weeks I asked what that policy was. There was no definitive answer.

The preceding thirty years had seen no serious debate on immigration. The assumption behind the Immigration Act 1971 was that “primary immigration“ should be ended and migration was not a “political good”.

The opposite is true. At DTI and Treasury I saw how legal migration is, in an age of globalisation, an economic, social and cultural good.

People ignore it now, but by the autumn of 2000, Labour was starting to get to grips with the system. Asylum decisions now exceeded the number of applications and the backlog had fallen. That’s why, with Jack Straw's blessing, I chose to shift the terms of the debate.

Despite some nervousness from Number 10 and senior Ministers, I used an address to the IPPR to outline the enormous contribution migrants had made to the UK, to argue the case for managed migration and to float the idea of citizenship ceremonies. And it was that speech that framed our policy going into the 2001 Election, and beyond.

The case for migration is a compelling one. And it needs to be made. The OBR estimates current levels of migration boost GDP by 0.5 per cent. Current levels of population growth are no higher then they were in the early 1900s. And only just over one in 10 new jobs created in the UK goes to migrants, rather than British nationals. These are the facts about immigration, and they have to be pushed vigorously and consistently.

Of course mistakes were made, and some things could have been handled better. But it would be damaging if Labour’s current introspection about our election defeat led to the conclusion progressive migration policies must be abandoned.

On Saturday Ed Miliband told the Fabians that “High levels of migration were having huge effects on the lives of people in Britain - and too often those in power seemed not to accept this”.  And he has a point; we should have been much more upfront about the situation we faced, and placed it in a global context. But we were acutely aware of the difficulties posed by immigration, and were attempting to manage them in a fair but compassionate way.

There has been a remarkable reversal on this issue by some on the left. The aggressive rhetoric against “illiberal” policies has been replaced by the accusation we let down the white working-class. Suddenly it’s trendy to echo the rhetoric of Migrationwatch, who last week responded to a Daily Express report that “White Britons are now a minority in 4 towns and cities” by saying “This has happened as a direct result of Labour’s policy of mass migration which was foisted upon the country without any thought for the future effects”.

This is not sober analysis, it is the language of division. And it must be confronted, not “triangulated” away

Britain’s identity has, in part, been forged by the contribution of generations of migrants. That is an achievement to celebrate. And one of the achievements of the last Labour government.

Barbara Roche is the co-founder of Migration Matters, and former Immigration and Asylum Minister under Tony Blair

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

 

i Editor's Letter: Still all to play for at our live iDebate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering