Immigration and the politics of fear

All the rhetoric is of a country swamped by foreigners looking for handouts

Share

The posters warning illegal immigrants to “go home or face arrest” were bad enough, striking a bullying note more reminiscent of a British National Party rally than a responsible government campaign.

Now, though, evidence of immigration officials conducting spot checks at, for example, London Underground stations – perhaps targeting non-whites, in particular – is more disturbing still.

The Home Office defence of such heavy-handed, if not illegal, tactics is far from convincing. Upholding the law is one thing; stopping people at random and demanding their papers is quite another, as is using Twitter to trumpet tallies of arrests.

Immigration is one of the most complex and inflammatory areas of public policy. As such, it should be kept as far away from politics as possible. Instead, the Conservative-led Coalition – unimpeded, it would seem, by the feeble protests of its junior partner – is playing ever more stridently to the gallery, currying favour with the most narrow-minded and ill-informed of the electorate, and shamelessly following public opinion when it should be leading it.

Nor is the problem simply one of tone. The substance of the Government’s policies is equally wrong-headed. First, the notion of a cap on net migration levels – that is, the balance between arrivals and departures – is nonsensical, focusing on an arbitrary annual figure rather than on what the Government is trying to achieve (which remains unclear). Such an approach also assumes, with frightening oversimplification, that an Indian software developer, a Polish plumber and a British pensioner retiring to the Costa del Sol are interchangeable.

There is also a problem with the numbers upon which the tottering edifice rests. Given the sensitivity of the topic, official immigration statistics are almost comically woolly, the numbers of entries extrapolated from a tiny sample and the number of exits not counted at all.  Not only is the target the wrong one, then, but our means of establishing whether we have hit it are suspect.

Finally, there is the blunt reality of what a crimp on immigration means. The majority of people who come to Britain are from other parts of Europe and are fully within their rights to do so. To make up the numbers, the Government must therefore squeeze extra hard elsewhere. That means fewer visas for overseas students and skilled workers.

Never mind that our universities are a successful export industry (supposedly a government priority). Never mind that businesses are crying out for highly trained staff, and that the NHS relies on staff from overseas. Never mind, either, that migrants claim far fewer benefits than indigenous Brits, or that our ageing population calls for more newcomers, not fewer. The dominant rhetoric is, nonetheless, of a country swamped by foreigners either looking for handouts or deviously undercutting the locals.

Instead of confronting the quagmire of fear, loathing and misinformation, the Government is playing along with it. Bogus asylum-seekers (of whom there are few) are conflated with health tourists (again, very few) and with Polish plumbers (whose services are beneficial) to create a universal bugaboo upon whom all the ills of society can be blamed. Thus, Ukip-waverers are courted, very real policy failures – notably that British youngsters are so much less work-ready than their foreign counterparts – are dodged, and the debate is conceded to the ignorant and the downright bigoted.

Britain will be the loser, economically, culturally and socially – and all because David Cameron is spooked by Nigel Farage.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there