Paul Goodman opened this debate by observing that t was “provocatively” entitled “Immigration: How can we make promises we keep?”
The four members of the panel refrained from offering easy answers. They indicated that they would leave such disreputable behaviour to UKIP.
Owen Paterson MP said that on Saturday afternoon, just after watching a horse called Tiggy Wiggy win a race, he found himself obliged to change channels in order to see Mark Reckless joining UKIP.
Paterson observed that immigration is “a huge recruiting agent” for UKIP, which is “quite ruthless” at exploiting the issue. But he went on to point out that “we do need to have open borders to have a dynamic, thriving economy”.
So the contention by Reckless that unless we leave the EU we shall be unable to restrict immigration is quite wrong. About 13 per cent of the UK’s population consists of immigrants, but the equivalent figure for Norway is 14.9 per cent, for Switzerland 23 per cent, and for Australia, with its much-vaunted points system, 27 per cent. Paterson reminded us that none of these countries is in the EU, which shows that “there are no glib, easy, quick-fix answers”.
Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, joint hosts of the event, said immigration is a very easy issue on which “to come up with some slogans”, unless “you want to govern the country as well”, in which case it is important to promise only to try to control the things it is in your power to control.
Katwala regretted that immigrants tend to vote en masse for Labour. This was “bad for democracy”, as it suggested they were not exercising any kind of individual choice: “I’d quite like them to start off as floating voters.”
Mark Field MP suggested that “we can’t out-UKIP UKIP”, and if the Conservatives try to do so, this could well alienate the ethnic minority voters the party needs to win over.
Isabel Oakeshott, who is at work with Lord Ashcroft on a biography of David Cameron, pointed out that last year 560,000 people moved to the UK, which “made an absolute mockery of Cameron’s pledge to bring immigration down to the tens of thousands”.
Oakeshott remarked “how little immigration comes up” in Cameron’s speeches. She said it was “not very fashionable to praise Andy Coulson”, but that while serving as Communications Director at Number Ten, “he did push the Prime Minister to confront the issue”. In Oakeshott’s view, Cameron “has to put up a real fight on the free movement of people within the EU.”