Mrs May's speech: An ugly intervention that at least clarifies for campaigners what needs to be done to defend the rights of all migrants
Home Secretary Theresa May’s speech to the Conservative Party conference yesterday has been condemned even in the pages of the truest and bluest of Tory journals.
Her claim that there is no economic benefit to the UK from immigration was picked apart by James Kirkup, the executive editor of the Daily Telegraph, who described it as an “awful, ugly, misleading, cynical and irresponsible speech”.
May’s key claim was that “at best the net economic and fiscal effect of high immigration is close to zero.” With nothing in the credit side to suggest any level of benefit from the movement of people she instead said out the view that “…for people in low-paid jobs, wages are forced down even further while some people are forced out of work altogether.”
Kirkup shows just how this claim is contradicted even by the Home Office’s own research into the impact of migration on the domestic labour market. In March 2014 May’s department published a report of research conducted jointly with the department of Business Innovation and Skills entitled Impacts of migration on UK native employment: An analytical review of the evidence.
This research found “relatively little evidence that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives from the labour market in periods when the economy is strong.”
The Treasury itself, and the independent Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR), also have very different takes on what immigration means for the UK than that held by the Home Secretary. The former government department sees immigration as contribution .25% to annual GDP growth. The OBR takes the view that immigration is contributing to reducing the budget deficit because of the net contribution that migrants pay into the public revenues through taxation.
Exploiting negative perception
Despite this evidence the problem for the side of the argument which is out to resist the anti-immigrant message is that perception is everything. Politicians working in the mainstream are plagued by what they call their ‘doorstep problem’ which shows deeply entrenched negative views of immigration held by a large swathe of the population.
The view that migrants are a large part of the reason why there is low pay in the UK as well as pressure on the supply of decent housing, access to NHS services and places in local schools. Mrs May has been charged with a cynical attempt to exploit the tendency of people to blame migrants for these unwelcome aspects of contemporary life but we should be clear that she is not alone in seeking to exploit these views. Expressed in less strident terms perhaps, but the message that immigration is making us poorer and more unequal was present in the speech of the Labour home affairs spokesperson, Andy Burnham, at this party’s conference in Brighton a week earlier.
May goes further in setting out the consequences of her negative views. Her speech set out a range of very worrying proposals on refugee policy which saw greater rigour being applied to withhold the asylum from anyone other than the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, preferably identified and processed in refugee camps using procedures which underscore that the few people who benefit are the lucky recipients of a gracious favour rather than a right under international humanitarian law.
Just do everyone is clear as to what is on offer here, Mrs May promises that far greater use will be made of ‘safe return reviews’ that underscore her view that refugee protection is a temporary status which leaves in the hand of the government authorities the prerogative of shipping people out when a political judgment has been reached that it is comparatively safe to do so.
Defend refugee status!
This points to the pressing need for a campaign to defend refugee status as something which provides the prospect of a safe and secure space which affords the prospect of long-term recovery from the traumas of flight from persecution and civil upheaval.
It has to be hoped that there will be sufficient people in the ranks of all the political parties represented in Parliament, including the governing Conservatives, ready to defend refugee status as a long term commitment to support people who have fled persecution with policies that include their integration into British society over a medium and long term, which includes British citizenship to all who wish to acquire it.
But this is just one part of the response that is now required to the deeply threatening tone of the Home Secretary’s speech. Many of the dismal projections of the supposed failure of British society to adapt to the modern realities of diversity have already been extended into the provisions of the immigration bill which the Conservatives have set before Parliament.
The need for the defence of refugee status and also a campaign aimed at securing the rights of other categories of migrants have never been so obvious as separate sides of a single coin than they are at the present time.
MRN intends to be a voice in the discussions that will rage across the political spectrum in the months to come that will come back to this basic point time and time again. Resistance to the “awful, ugly, misleading, cynical” and dispiriting themes that Mrs May set before us at her conference will require a view on immigration that at one and the same time sets out a clear and coherent defence of the rights of all people who migrate in this modern world, and refuses their scapegoating as the cause of any of the hardships which currently befall such large section of the already settled population.