Leading article: Cameron's cynical and disappointing approach to immigration

The true objective of the speech was to shore up Tory support ahead of next month's local elections

Share
Related Topics

When David Cameron addresses sensitive issues of race he has a knack for choosing inappropriate locations. Earlier this year, the Prime Minister delivered a speech on the evils of British-style multiculturalism in Munich. And yesterday he gave an address on the stresses caused by immigration in Romsey, a Hampshire town not known for being a hotbed of ethnic friction.

But the real problem with yesterday's speech by Mr Cameron was less the location than the logic. After the usual acknowledgement of the benefits of immigration, the Prime Minister went on to present flows of people from overseas as a threat to community cohesion. Mass immigration, he told us, has "created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods". And he put the blame for this on immigrants "perhaps not able to speak the same language as those living there, on occasion not really wanting or even willing to integrate".

This is a one-eyed analysis. Mr Cameron failed to mention that, just as some migrant communities have failed to integrate, so have some host communities. The "white flight" seen in places such as Bradford and East London has been well documented. If separatism from ethnic minorities is deplorable, so too surely is its counterpart. The Prime Minister gave the unfortunate impression that he regards integration as a one-way street. Further, Mr Cameron's concerns about language barriers sound hypocritical coming from a Government that is cutting English lessons for migrants.

The Prime Minister also demolished a line of straw men. On forced marriages involving immigrant brides he argued that "I've got no time for those who say this is a culturally relative issue". Yet he omitted to name these deluded individuals who believe that forced marriages are acceptable. There was a pledge to be tough on bogus language colleges and migrants who outstay their visas. But, again, the Prime Minister neglected to identify those who have urged the Government to be relaxed about such abuses.

This was an intellectually disappointing speech. Mr Cameron repeated the pledge made by the Conservative Party before the last election to reduce annual immigration flows to "tens of thousands" a year by the end of the Parliament. But he made no attempt to justify this arbitrary figure. Other confusions proliferate on migration. The Government, normally so keen to rubbish the legacy of its predecessor, has unquestioningly retained Labour's points system for migrants. And ministers, usually so desperate to tear up the "red tape" that binds businesses, are scrambling to impose still more when it comes to hiring foreigners. The Prime Minister argued that welfare reform and immigration are "two sides of the same coin". But while the Government is right to attempt to dig people out of the pit of benefits dependency, Mr Cameron is being naïve if he thinks this will significantly curb demand from employers for unskilled and skilled workers from abroad.

The very purpose of the exercise was unclear. Despite the speech being heavily trailed by Downing Street, no new policy was announced. And most of the arguments from the Prime Minister were familiar. It is hard to disagree with the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, who concluded that the true objective of the speech was to shore up Conservative support ahead of next month's local elections.

At one point yesterday Mr Cameron lapsed into nostalgia: "I remember when immigration wasn't a central political issue in our country – and I want that to be the case again." But those days look depressingly far off. And they will remain so as long as politicians like Mr Cameron reach for immigration with one cynical eye on electoral advantage.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sewing Technician

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This market leader in Medical Devices is...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior IT Support / Projects Engineer

£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Bench Joiner & Wood Machinist

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This busy local Joinery company...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Lily-Rose Depp is not 'all grown up' - she is a 15 year old girl who should not be modelling for an adult fashion magazine

Harriet Williamson
 

If I were Prime Mininster: I would legislate for abortion on demand and abolish VAT on sanitary products

Caroline Criado-Perez
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence