Immigration rights and wrongs
I should write about conferences which I'm not planning to go to more often, judging by the range and quality of comments I got last time I did so.
I promised Paul Kingsnorth a separate response about why his arguments about immigration and overpopulation (he agrees with Phil Woolas) were terrible nonsense, but happily Matt Sellwood has done an excellent job on this before I got round to writing anything. So I'm just going to pick up on a few points.
To start with, Paul writes that, "On immigration itself, whatever your view on the matter it is hard to deny that the way it has been handled over the last decade has been deeply undemocratic...For a decade they [Labour] have engineered a situation in which public discussions about immigration are taboo, by hinting darkly at the motivations of anyone who tries to hold them."
I remember the past decade. Similar policies to the ones which Paul wants to see adopted on immigration were put forward by the Conservative Party in 1997, 2001 and 2005, and decisively rejected each time. Barely a day went past when the newspapers didn't have one or more stories about immigration. Almost yearly, the government passed immigration bills through Parliament. There's been plenty, almost endless, debate about immigration ever since Labour came to power.
Paul is specifically worried about overpopulation. He writes that "The UK's population is currently almost 61 million. But it's predicted to rise to a staggering 77 million by 2051 if current levels of immigration continue." But 'current levels of immigration' are very different now, compared even to 2008 or 2007. Scare stories about overpopulation based on assumptions that levels of immigration will continue to remain at the same levels for the next 40 years is a MigrationWatch or Taxpayer's Alliance kind of argument. Even Paul goes on to write that "now that many Eastern Europeans are returning home, where their economies may end up doing better than ours". He hasn't actually suggested, though, what he thinks the population limit should be.
And so to his solution, which is that "immigration and emigration should be pretty much balanced. This means a big cut in immigration from the present numbers", and that Phil Woolas and Frank Field are on to something when they propose a population limit.
I'm not sure that Paul comprehends what the actual consequences would be if the government were to follow his policy advice. The current immigration system is cruel, vicious, discriminatory and pointlessly vindictive. A 'one in, one out' policy would be massively more so, requiring a vast increase in the amount of money that we spend trying to stop people coming to Britain, on surveillance and repression and on bureaucracy.
Phil Woolas, Frank Field or Michael Howard are, understandably, all for this, but it is a pretty weird argument from someone who is speaking at a conference next week about the erosion of civil liberties. As Matt says, it is pretty sad when the policy solutions which Paul is proposing draw more on a politics of repression and lockdown than on a politics of global redistribution of wealth and low-carbon living. Policy proposals have consequences, and the consequences of this policy would be rancid.