For a long while, the Conservatives have been puzzled about their lack of popularity among immigrants. In theory, the Conservative party should be the natural home of new voters who are ambitious, entrepreneurial, hard-working and family-orientated. The immigrant vote — to the extent it can be considered a coherent block at all — ought to be fertile Tory territory. By and large, these are families who have moved to Britain to get ahead and to avail themselves of what Michael Howard called ‘the British dream’.
Yet at the last election fewer than one in five ethnic minority voters endorsed Conservative candidates and the party is unlikely to fare much better in May. Sajid Javid, the son of a Pakistani immigrant, admits that his friends and family were amazed when he joined the Tories rather than Labour. The objection was not ideological, but because they suspected — as do many other immigrants and children of immigrants — that the Tories just don’t like them. They assume that Conservatives are the party of the establishment, and suspicious of all newcomers.
Lord Bates, a Home Office minister, exacerbated the problem this week by suggesting that immigrants were having too many children. He cited the well-known statistic that a quarter of British births are to immigrant mothers — then added, ‘That is why we need to reduce immigration.’ This is an absurd notion and exactly the wrong approach for Conservatives to take. It was right of the campaign group Migration Watch UK to point out that immigrants to Britain tend to have more children than people born here and that this must be considered when assessing the impact of immigration. But the problem is not the healthy birth rate — it’s the government’s failure to respond and to make provision for the next baby boom.
Right across Europe, countries are worrying about low fertility rates. The panic is justified: as the population ages, more workers will be needed to support those who have retired. Italy and Russia are facing demographic timebombs. Britain has no such concerns. Nor, despite what neo-Malthusians say, is this island full. There remains ample room for new housing, even in the south-east. Of course, a growing population places pressure on public services — but that’s where good government comes in. A competent administration estimates how many children there will be, and provides enough schools and other public services. Our government’s failure to do so has put pressure on school places, especially in London where half the children entering primaries this year will have foreign-born mothers.
There is an obvious solution: if bureaucrats cannot provide enough schools, let money follow pupils and allow far more free schools to meet the demand. Proper health reform should also allow GPs to open clinics where demand is the highest, and to compete for patients.
If Britain is seen as one of the best places to live and work in Europe, that’s all to the good. We would have greater cause to worry if immigrants were huddled in Dover, desperate to get to France. Conservatives should be proud of a country that is so welcoming, so tolerant, so adaptable and so ready for the modern world.
Why Bibi won
The re-election of Benjamin (‘Bibi’) Netanyahu in Israel has not gone down well in the chancelleries of Europe, let alone the White House. During his terms of office, a majority of western politicians and commentators have become opposed to Netanyahu, viewing him as an obstacle to peace. BBC reporters claimed that his win was down to ‘scare tactics’. The shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, said he found Bibi’s success ‘depressing’.
But the election results are a reminder that, although outside the country there is a vast industry focused on the unresolved Israel-Palestinian border dispute, inside Israel other issues dominate. Fifteen years after the failure of negotiations at Camp David, Israeli politics is (as in every other western democracy) dominated by the cost of living, house prices and income inequality. Like his left-wing opponents, Netanyahu has promised to address these concerns.
It is undeniable that a win by his opponents would have allowed Israel to catch its breath in the court of international opinion. But any cheer would not have lasted long, because even the election of the left-of-centre Zionist Union would not have altered the nature of Hamas. Nor would the election of the ‘progressive’ Isaac Herzog have created a serious negotiating partner in the West Bank. We can’t just blame Bibi for the lack of peace in the Middle East.