Peter Hoskin

The Neather clarification

The Neather clarification
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Plenty of CoffeeHousers are mentioning the Andrew Neather revelations in various comment sections.  If you haven't seen them yourself, the story is that Neather, a former government adviser, wrote a comment piece claiming that New Labour's immigration policy was "intended - even if this wasn't its main purpose - to rub the Right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date."  Many reports since have taken this as confirmation that Labour's policy was exclusively politically-motivated.   

In which case, it's worth highlighting Neather's latest column for the Evening Standard, in which he claims his comments have been exaggerated and misinterpreted.  Here's the key point it makes:

"As a ministerial speechwriter in a former career, in 2000 I penned a key speech for the then immigration minister Barbara Roche, which mooted changes to make it easier for skilled workers to come to the UK.

That was based on a sensitive report on migration by the Prime Minister's Performance and Innovation Unit.

Multiculturalism was not the primary point of the report or the speech. The main goal was to allow in more migrant workers at a point when - hard as it is to imagine now - the booming economy was running up against skills shortages.

But my sense from several discussions was there was also a subsidiary political purpose to it - boosting diversity and undermining the Right's opposition to multiculturalism.

I was not comfortable with that. But it wasn't the main point at issue." Like Neather, I'm uncomfortable with the idea that the government so readily seized on the political angle to this.  But it seems to me that there's something different between a) having solely political motivations for a policy, and b) recognising (welcoming, even) the political implications of a policy.  Neather appears only to be claiming b) – which is far from edifying, but still a less controversial point that a).

Strictly speaking, this doesn't necessarily mean that Labour's immigration policy wasn't a politically-motivated ruse.  The question which may follow from Neather's claims is whether "subsidiary" goals can distort "primary goals" – or whether he's got the set of goals the wrong way around.  But this isn't, by itself, the definitive confirmation which some people have been looking for.