While prime minister David Cameron was at an EU summit meeting in Brussels on Ukraine, his new immigration minister, James Brokenshire, was at home “creating political havoc” by accusing a “wealthy metropolitan elite” of fuelling migration with their demand for “cheap labour”, says George Parker in the FT. His speech seemed to offend almost everyone, including natural Tory supporters from the middle classes and business. The head of the Institute of Directors described it as “feeble and pathetic” and it was nominated by Dan Hodges, The Daily Telegraph blogger, as the “most stupid, intellectually bankrupt and vacuous address of the year”. It also drew unwelcome attention to Cameron’s Nepalese nanny and Nick Clegg’s “lady with a Belgian passport who helps us”.
Brokenshire’s speech simply served to sow more confusion about Tory immigration policy, says Camilla Cavendish in The Sunday Times. For this was also the week when “data showed that the government would miss its net migration target and the Home Office was accused of having exaggerated the extent to which migrants stop Brits getting jobs”. Its report, rushed out last week, revealed that this does happen during a recession, but not when the economy is strong.
In reality, this is a complex issue. There is no fixed number of jobs because migrants expand the economy and therefore “increase the size of the pie”. Employers can’t be blamed for hiring better, cheaper workers. Migrants also bring new ideas, energy and understanding, and a report last week by the Centre for Entrepreneurs found that the public is positive about migrant entrepreneurs. Some say it is hypocritical to praise foreign entrepreneurs while decrying the impact of immigration on social cohesion, “yet that is perfectly logical”.
It is, says Iain Martin in The Daily Telegraph. This row is “best seen in the context of the great national divide – between the metropolitans and those living in less affluent parts of middle Britain”, with one side viewing it as positive and the other worrying about the impact on employment, public services, housing and social cohesion. The Tories’ problem is that their “immigration policy is falling apart as the general election nears”. Cameron has promised to cut annual immigration to the tens of thousands. Given that net migration – the difference between those arriving and those leaving the country – jumped to 212,000 last year, this aspiration is clearly “doomed”. Nor can ministers do anything about it. Britain signed away its rights to restrict the movement of labour from other EU countries long ago.
Quite, says Allister Heath in City AM. So blaming people – whether migrants or employers – for legally pursuing their self-interest is silly and counter-productive. Cameron has a “major problem”. The Tory party has “lost both the hard-core anti-immigration voters – they simply don’t trust him – while failing to gain the upwardly mobile, ambitious migrants”. Public opinion is shifting leftwards “courtesy of a rudderless and ideologically confused Tory party”. The latest YouGov/Sun poll puts the Tories on 32% and Labour on 39%. This is expected to narrow before next year, but if it doesn’t, “Cameron is toast”.