Perhaps even only a few months ago, the received wisdom in genteel
political circles was that only the obsessive or the cranky talked
about mass migration and its impact on the United Kingdom. Modernist
opinion formers in political parties and the media told us that we
flogged it to death at the General Election and little good did it do
us. True, up to a point.
Personally, I do not consider myself anything other than a mainstream,
modern and compassionate Conservative. But I have to admit to being
Angry at this Government’s lies and obfuscation, angry at their disdain
for the views of my local residents and angry at what their policies
have done to parts of my constituency. John Reid’s talk of a "mature
debate" is nonsense – imbued as it is with opportunistic cynicism.
I have lost count of the dishonest, patronising and evasive answers I
have received from Ministers in Parliamentary Questions and including
at my Adjournment Debate on the subject on 14th July (see
Most recent polls show that by a long way Conservative policies on
immigration are preferred to those of the Labour Party and we are
trusted more on this issue. Conservative supporters have tended to
regard this state of affairs as a given – an issue that we can "bank"
before we turn our attention to other more comfortable and "easier"
However, the political environment is evolving and a number of factors are changing the terms of trade between the parties over this most contentious of issues.
Firstly, the sheer scale of immigration to the United Kingdom, over the last two years and particularly from the EU Accession countries of Eastern Europe, has become clear. Whilst the Government proclaimed in May 2004 that only 8,000 to 13,000 EU migrants would move to the UK, the number is closer to 700,000 in little over two years. Figures from the Office of National Statistics this week show that 250,000 EU residents are entering the UK each month – that is 3 million people a year! In my constituency of Peterborough, the number of National Insurance numbers issued to Polish workers has risen 10-fold and 15-fold for Lithuanians.
And we have more to come with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU next January. Two weeks ago, a leaked memo from the Home Office conceded that as many as 45,000 people with a criminal background would enter the UK from these countries. Like all the other EU Accession migrants, without any criminal records checks, medical tests or language proficiency tests.
Secondly, Labour MPs can see the impact of this mass immigration in their constituencies like anyone else. Perhaps like me, they see EU migrant workers queuing at tax credit offices for working tax credits – despite us being told that they would not be in receipt of benefits. Labour MPs understand the dangers to community relations as public services in poorer urban areas are put under enormous strain, as the Government’s grants to local authorities are based on outdated and inaccurate population data. And Labour MPs know the electoral backlash that they will suffer from their core voters – the unskilled, white working class, if they are perceived to have visited on these areas uncontrolled mass immigration, social dislocation and unfair competition for scarce resources.
It is for this reason alone that the Labour Party (in the person of Home Secretary John Reid) and their sycophantic media cheerleaders such as Polly Toynbee, are sounding the note of alarm. Not because they concede that their deliberate and profoundly damaging policy of social engineering since 1997 (and we haven’t even mentioned asylum seekers, terrorists or foreign prisoners!) is misguided or wrong per se, but that with immigration rising to the top of the list of voter salience and media debate, the potential for serious political damage to the Labour Party is acute. Hence the belated "licence" to discuss the issue without being branded a racist. John Reid might well tell that to the hundreds of Labour candidates at the last General Election – including in my own constituency – most of whom used smear tactics against Michael Howard and other Conservatives at every possible opportunity in the campaign.
Thirdly, there is now a consensus across the media, the metropolitan elite and the chattering classes that something must be done about this issue. The lazy assumptions that mass migration merely means more cheap cleaners and plumbers and taxi drivers and twee Polish delicatessens, do not stand up to scrutiny. Yes, we need skilled workers – but do we need pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and people traffickers? Yes – they are a tiny minority but why not keep them out in the first place?
What is the point of electing a Parliament or a Government if they surrender the power to police our own borders for the common good of everyone currently in the UK?
For many communities, such as Slough, which almost went bust last year due to financial pressure on the delivery of its local services, they mean unsustainable burdens on local taxpayers – How do you cope when six Slovak children turn up in your school one day unable to speak English? Or when a family turned out of a house in multiple occupation seeks to be housed by their local authority? Or when an Estonian child is knocked down in the street and taken to the local district hospital? Do we ignore these people?
Of course not. Most of them are decent, honest and hardworking folk who wish justifiably to make a better life for themselves.
But mass immigration is not a cost-free policy. It means increased financial responsibilities falling on a few exposed communities, such as mine, which happens to be at the centre of the regional agriculture, food processing and packaging sector. It means eventually a higher burden on all taxpayers. It means increased social tensions as slum landlords buy up properties to house families and change the character of established residential areas and unscrupulous employers employ thousands of workers in the black economy, leaving many of the least skilled and least educated in the host communities
– which in my area includes English, Pakistani and Portuguese – angry and resentful.
And where is the strong confident voice of the Conservative Party in this debate? Frankly, we cannot wait for the results of Damian Green’s policy review on this issue.
We need to speak for the vast bulk of decent, tolerant but concerned citizens in the UK now. Because if we don’t, UKIP or the British National Party will – and that would be a disaster for the country as a whole.
We need to make it clear that a Conservative Government were it to have been in power, would have like most EU states have imposed limits on migrant movement in May 2004, would have vetoed the entry of Romania and Bulgaria to the UK in January 2007; and at the very least postponed their citizens’ entry into the UK and now impose on all EU migrants criminal records, medical and language proficiency checks. This Government specifically refused to take part in a pilot project on sharing criminal records data with other EU countries in May. In addition, we must be bold in a commitment to imposing a quota on primary migration and we need to do an immediate audit on the impact immigration is having on the delivery of public services across the country.
From their well-heeled towns in the South of England, economic liberals and uber-free marketers decry such measures as offending against the traditions of Adam Smith – and the free flow of capital and labour.
But we must never forget that we are One Nation Conservatives too and we are a party of tradition and social and political evolution. Never before have we experienced such unprecedented immigration and the desire to offer a better life to newcomers must be balanced by a responsible approach to protecting the social cohesion and stability of our country.
Only the Conservatives can deliver this and we would be foolish to allow Labour to snatch the initiative from us in an attempt to hide their abysmal and damaging record since 1997.