Are the rich the only ones who benefit from immigration, as the immigration minister, James Brokenshire, claims in his maiden intervention on the subject? And if they are, where does that leave the Camerons’ Nepalese nanny?
To be fair to Mr Brokenshire – who has only recently migrated to his new role – it is true that the “metropolitan elite” tends to be found in the sort of occupations where there is little serious competition from abroad. The average newspaper columnist, for example, is not liable to be displaced by a Bulgarian willing to spout nonsense for a much smaller fee. You do not tend to hear of eye surgeons claiming foreigners have taken “their” jobs. And yet the professional classes do gain the benefit of cheaper cleaners, taxi drivers, plumbers, builders and all the other trades that migrants tend to be found in. And indeed, the nannying.
Mr Brokenshire says British workers are losing jobs and seeing their wages driven down by this increase in supply. The evidence for this is slight, but even if there is an effect, we never allowed this to stand in the way of our marked appetite for foreign cars and holidays. If we were so obsessed with protecting jobs and keeping wages high, for car workers and hoteliers, say, we would have erected punitive tariffs on imports long since.
In fact, everyone gains from the higher economic growth migration brings, as it boosts tax returns, supports public spending and promotes employment. A poor family with a broken boiler is glad of a plumber it can afford, no matter where he or she comes from. The truth is that migrants tend to be younger, healthier and single, and make relatively little call on public services.
As a spokesman for the Camerons said yesterday about their Nepalese nanny, now a British citizen: “We have always said we want people who want to work hard and get on. Do we want the brightest and the best? Yes we do. And that would absolutely include, for example, Mr and Mrs Cameron’s nanny as someone who wants to work hard and get on.” Not an elitist view, that.