Immigration: Beyond the hype and scaremongering

October 20, 2013
KCC County Hall

KCC County Hall

Here is an extended version of the opinion piece on immigration in today’s Kent on Sunday by our KCC member for Hythe, Martin Whybrow: Ahead of the lifting of EU employment restrictions on Romania and Bulgaria at the start of next year, there will be a great deal of scaremongering and misinformation. The appearance last week of a study on the topic by Kent County Council brought a taste of what is to come. Moreover, locally, we now have four of the six KCC members coming from UKIP (well done, Hythe – the green beacon of sanity!) and the possibility of Nigel Farage standing in Folkestone & Hythe as parliamentary candidate, which would cause a huge media circus ahead of the 2015 general election.

The KCC report was a relatively even-handed one, certainly more so than some recent ones from KCC, such as on fracking and aviation. But it was no surprise that UKIP highlighted the estimates that it liked, talked up these, and ignored others, particularly where related to the relatively light use of public services and economic benefits of immigrants.

It is a rather strange report, with a lot of reliance on ‘scenario testing’, or ‘guesswork’, in layman’s terms. The lack of any reliable estimates on the number of immigrants means there is a big hole in the report. With this in mind, there is a question of why it was commissioned. The timing (April) might give a hint, as it is likely that the brief flame that is UKIP was starting to flicker and was rightly causing concern for the Tories at KCC ahead of the county elections at the start of May. Perhaps the commissioning of the report was meant to head off any accusations of unpreparedness.

There is also a theme in the report about the possible increase in public service spending with any influx so the reason for the report might be to build a case for going to central government and asking for more money. There is a lot of this at KCC at present and I liken it to hunting behind the sofa cushions for loose change. This is what local authorities have been reduced to by this government’s huge, sustained cuts (which, by the way, are far more damaging on public services than any pressure from the arrival of a few more people to our shores).

The hype about immigration is dangerous. Often, immigration is the easy thing for people to grasp but it masks the real problems. The chronic lack of social housing, for instance, isn’t due to immigrants, it stems from years of ineptitude from successive governments, but you wouldn’t know that listening to some politicians or newspapers.

An example of KCC UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom wing came during a largely constructive debate at the last full council meeting about KCC’s excellent Troubled Families project. Into this waded one UKIP member who asked what would happen when the project needed to be doubled or tripled after the 1st January because of the arrival of Romanians and Bulgarians.

It used to be that you countered another political party’s beliefs by argument and debate. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that the Conservative Party increasingly doesn’t devise policies based on merit but as a reaction to UKIP’s potential to take away votes. This is a government that believes it is acceptable to put an advertising board on the back of a van and drive round parts of London telling people to go home. It is a government that devises a bill forcing NHS workers and others to check the status of immigrants seeking to use their services.

It isn’t even as though it is difficult to blow holes in UKIP’s shallow and limited policies. Many in UKIP oppose foreign aid, oppose subsidies for renewable energy and deny climate change. However, if you do not address the world’s massive inequalities then you will always have the mass movement of people seeking a better life. And if we don’t get serious on climate change soon then the current movement of people is nothing to what will occur in the future, as parts of the planet are made uninhabitable. Immigration should be a choice, not a necessity but this, as with so much other commonsense, is likely to be swamped in a messy, unedifying scrap between UKIP and the Tories between now and the European, then general, elections.