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Migration, integration and the London Election

This is the first of two blogs looking at the elections for Mayor of London and Assembly Members that will be taking place on 3rd of May. In this blog I will look at the role of immigration and integration in the campaign. The second blog will present and ask for suggestions to a list of ‘asks’ that MRN would like to put forward to the candidates with the support of others working with migrants in London.

The latest election poll published this week suggests the race for London’s Mayoral election May is neck and neck with preferences so close that the margin of error for the poll is larger than the difference between the frontrunners. This means that the election race is wide open and that relatively small numbers of votes could tilt the balance one way or another. In this context every issue is potentially a defining issue and groups of voters with a common interest could settle the election if persuaded by one of the main candidates on their agenda. On the other hand, candidates are likely to avoid addressing issues that may generate controversy and lose them votes amongst mainstream voters.

Predictably, immigration has played no role in the campaigns up to date. This is unsurprising given that immigration policy is the responsibility of national government and generally perceived as a controversial topic. Campaigning proposals have focused on those policy areas for which the Mayor has not only strategic responsibilities but the even narrower sets of issues on which it has a degree of direct control. The headlines have therefore been dominated by the GLA component of the council tax rate, transport fares and infrastructure and policing.

However, beyond statutory duties and policy areas with direct influence, the Mayor has an important role in facilitating coordination between different stakeholders in the London region and in representing the interests of London as a whole in national and international settings. In this capacity the Mayor can have a significant role to play in the national immigration debate and in showing leadership on integration in the capital.

Migrants and the work of the Mayor of London

The Mayor of London has no direct responsibility for immigration policy and most of the services and support migrants’ requires are delivered by the London boroughs, so what importance does the Mayoral election have for immigration issues? Well, in its roles of setting out a London-wide vision, coordinating work and championing London the Mayor could have an important part to play.

For example, the current Mayor published an integration strategy for migrants and refugees. A lot of the groundwork preparing the strategy was carried out under the previous administration showing a degree of continuity in this area. While the strategy offers little in the way of concrete support and services, it does spell out a vision for integration in London and brings out commitments from partners. The integration strategy is not one of the Mayor’s strategies covered by his statutory duties but it is an area of work where he can show leadership and bring together partners to improve delivery.

There is the London Strategic Migration Partnership (LSMP), chaired by the Mayor’s deputy, which brings together representatives of service providers, the councils and civil society to coordinate action and oversee the delivery of the integration strategy. The work of the LSMP is complemented by a Migrant and Refugee Advisory Panel.

The Mayor of London has an important role in championing the city’s interests. Immigration is of course of paramount importance to London and its interests in this area can be quite unique. The Mayor has lobbied national government on specific immigration-related issues such as the cap on foreign skilled workers, the changes to student visas and, a few years ago, on the situation of undocumented migrants.

Beyond specific work on immigration and integration, some of the areas where the Mayor does have statutory duties also have a great importance to migrants. These include the Mayor’s role in planning and housing issues, the way that policing is carried out, tackling health inequalities and work on employment.

Will the candidates address migration and integration?

There are reasons why the candidates have not yet said much about immigration and may feel tempted to steer away from the topic. This is an area of political controversy and politicians may feel that a proactive approach could cost them votes. There are no statutory duties for the Mayor on this area so it can be swept aside without major consequences.

Despite this, it is important to push the candidates to set out their vision and proposals on immigration and integration issues. Given its role and responsibilities there are few commitments the candidates can make in this area on policy issues or service delivery. But the candidates can set out a vision for the city: how they perceive the role of immigration and diversity in London and what integration should look like. The candidates can commit to lobby national government for specific policies that affect London, and spell out what these are. Candidates can set out their views on maintaining an integration strategy, monitoring integration and convening working groups to improve delivery across London. They could also spell out what actions they will take to mainstream migrant communities into the general work of the Mayor, i.e. into consultation processes and the preparation of statutory strategies.

So there is plenty for the candidates to discuss in relation to immigration and integration and potentially to stake out different approaches for people with an interest in migrants to take into account when weighing their options. In the context of such a tight race this is no small issue.

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