October 15, 2010
Speaking to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on October 6, British Prime Minister David Cameron listed what he saw as the Coalition's achievements to date. Prominent amongst these was "Immigration—capped!" But as the BBC's Mark Easton noted the following day, "Well, not quite prime minister."
During this year's U.K. general election campaign, immigration was one of the chief issues raised by voters, with even Labour feeling constrained to pretend that they had pursued a responsible policy—during a period which saw almost 2,000,000 new likely Labour voters entering the country legally between 1997 and 2006, plus an unknown number entering illegally or simply overstaying their welcome.
Senior Tories came under pressure from their own backbench MPs and party activists to talk more strongly about immigration. But they have become so terrified of the radioactive "racist" accusation that they demurred. At least one pollster has surmised that this delicacy may have cost the party its outright majority—so forcing it into coalition with the Liberal Democrats, whose pre-election policy on immigration was even more lackadaisical than Labour's.
During the election, all Cameron would promise was that non-European Union immigration would be capped to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands per year. Yet 80% of immigration into the UK is from other EU member states—whose citizens the UK are not permitted to exclude under EU treaties.
Furthermore, the Tories are in favor of Turkey's EU membership—and Cameron early on "forgot" a former promise to deal with the 1998 Human Rights Act, by means of which real and fraudulent "asylum-seekers" were encouraged to come to and stay in the UK. So the Tory promise to trim a percentage of that outstanding 20% was to say the least a modest proposal.
Now even that underwhelming undertaking is in peril. The proposed cap is facing stiff resistance not only from big business and the Tories' Liberal Democrat "colleagues", notably Business Secretary Vince Cable, but also some senior Conservatives, most prominently London Mayor Boris Johnson. They argue that the cap will harm businesses' ability to recruit top international talent, a view shared by the Confederation of British Industry, which represents big business. Their argument will have been boosted by a letter in the October 7 London Times from eight British-based Nobel laureates, who claim the cap may harm Britain's research expertise.
To add to these limited but rational discussions, there is something of a frenzy surrounding a young Zimbabwean singer, Gamu Nhengu, who featured on the popular TV talent show The X Factor, who has not only been evicted controversially from the show, but has now also been ordered to quit the country. The family's visa expired in August and an extension has been refused. The family is seeking a judicial review under the same human rights legislation that Cameron once promised to discard, while there are tabloid and social network campaigns to let them stay.
As the BBC's Mark Easton says:
"Capping immigration as a general idea would, I suspect, be cheered by a country which was never asked or informed about Labour's quiet policy of substantially expanding net migration into the UK. It is the human face that is tricky."
Easton goes on,
"If David Cameron is claiming 'job done' in capping immigration into the UK, he is arguably displaying the same lack of candor as the Labour party."
Meanwhile, the Tory conference fringes, lively on subjects like welfare, crime and civil liberties, were essentially silent on immigration—with even the Freedom Association's Freedom Zone almost completely sidestepping the subject. The Conservative Monday Club, which held packed meetings on immigration addressed by MPs and even ministers during the 1980s, has long been unwelcome and is now more or less moribund. The ginger groups on what remains of the Tory Right are now chiefly concerned with economics (such as the No Turning Back Group and Conservative Way Forward) or moral matters (Cornerstone Group and Conservative Christian Fellowship).
Beyond the Conservatives, there is no serious political challenge to mass immigration, with both the UKIP and the BNP demoralized after what were for them disappointing general election performances, and the BNP furthermore seemingly in serious disarray.
The unedifying truth is that despite all the public disquiet, all the media articles and a slowly emerging intellectual consensus that something needs to be done about mass migration, Britain's politicians still have no serious will to take action.
David Cameron's guilty tinkering at the edges of the issue is almost literally an apology for a policy.