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Monday, February 07, 2005


Why we need immigrants

If ever there were a case for less heat and more light, it is the current controversy over immigration.

Two factors are influencing Tory and Labour policy and neither of them has any validity. One is a right-wing tabloid campaign, inspired by a desire to cash-in on racism. The other is a tactical calculation of electoral advantage, inspired by the forthcoming general election.

Before any more politicians or journalists add their two cents, they would be well-advised to read this new article,
Why Europe needs to open its doors for labour migration, written by Nigel Harris for the European Policy Centre think-tank.

Harris argues that a sustainable immigration policy is both essential for Europe’s economic development and a potentially important tool in the fight against global poverty. His thesis is that excessively restrictive immigration controls in many EU Member States disrupt circular patterns of migration and discourage immigrants from returning to their homes, thus denying remittances and labour to developing countries while aggravating social tensions within European societies.

Towards the end of his article, Harris makes a telling point:

The problems lie in the transition from a world of national economic enclaves of protected labour markets to a global economy which dissolves national economies while retaining a political order of national administrations (dependent upon national electorates and competitive politics).
In other words, national governments are increasingly impotent in a globalised world. This impotence is a major reason for popular disillusionment with democratic politics. It is also a major reason for supporting the European Union, as a political framework with the scale to deal effectively with global economic issues.

Ignoring this reality only leads to more trouble. Xenophobia encourages national politicians to make promises on immigration, but globalisation makes these promises impossible to keep.

It takes courage to express such views in public, but Liberals must do so if they are to engage in a grown-up debate with the electorate. The alternative - "blame the darkies" - is a cheap shot that, quite apart from being immoral, is divorced from reality.

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