On Monday Douglas Murray blogged that I personify the ‘craziness’ of the British immigration debate. By criticising the views of both a Ukip councillor and a Labour pollster I was apparently guilty of a doublethink, as if there were no political space between open borders and ‘send the lot back’.
But there’s nothing contradictory about opposing both those on the hard right who favour the mass deportation of anyone who wasn’t born here and those on the liberal left who want to shut down the immigration debate altogether. We need an immigration policy which works for Britain, one which delivers us economic benefits while addressing longstanding public concerns about the capacity of British society to absorb so many new arrivals. Mainstream politicians are not going to take the public with them unless we tackle extreme views on both sides.
The left’s problem is that they have always regarded the economic case for open borders as unimpeachably sound. This has led to the deeply ingrained assumption that anyone who doesn’t share their views must be badly informed (or ‘bigoted’ when the mics are thought to be off). Until very recently few in the Labour Party had bothered to consider non-economic factors such as community cohesion, or the opportunity costs – what would have happened to wages in non-tradable jobs like care if employers had been unable to fill all those vacancies in the mid-2000s? And the appeal to stats might have greater credibility with the public if Labour hadn’t got the big number so wrong on the A8 countries.
By contrast, the right’s problem is an obsession on absolute numbers, along with our tendency to lump immigrants together as a single monolithic bloc.