Here’s why Cameron is still obsessed by immigration


3:58 pm - May 8th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    


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After recent announcements and the Queen’s Speech today, you may ask: why is the government so obsessed with immigration?

There’s actually a simple answer to this, and it has major implications for both Labour and the Conservatives.

YouGov regularly track public opinion on a range of issue, asking the same question every time.

One of those questions is: ‘Which party is best able to handle the issue of Immigration and Asylum?

Here’s what is shows (you can click it for a bigger interactive chart).

.

This has a few lessons I think.

1) Voters who think the Tories are better able to handle immigration have been shrinking consistently since the election. It partly explains the rise of UKIP, and is extraordinary given the number of speeches and announcements on immigration the government has made.

2) It shows how little attention voters pay to news, announcements, speeches and impact of policy. Immigration has fallen and been tightened up and yet the public still don’t believe it or don’t know about it. So their faith in the government’s handle on the issue keeps falling.

3) This has an instructive message for Labour too. As I’ve said repeatedly – posturing and ‘acting tough‘ on issues like welfare and immigration by Labour cuts little ice with the public. It didn’t during the New Labour years and it does so even less now.

Voter rarely pay attention to policy or speeches, but instead reach their opinions through vague mood music. In other words they expect Labour to be ‘soft’ on these issues and Tories to be ‘tough’ on these issues, and their general focus is instead on how ‘competent’ a party is on managing its affairs. If they think a party is competent then they’ll assume they’re doing a good job on immigration and welfare too.

This also means that if Labour act tough on welfare or immigration, the public doesn’t hear it or believe it. Which means the party is better of dropping the posturing and focusing on sensible policies and linking the issues to the economy.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


1. Shatterface

In other words even if Labour act tough on welfare or immigration, the public doesn’t hear it or believe it.

Which means, since being tough on welfare snd immigration are Millipedes Big Themes, that their posturing is both morally repunant and electorially useless.

UKIP?

3. white trash

You’re coming over desperate again, Sunny.

The government is still obsessed by immigration because significant numbers of the public are obsessed by immigration.

The reason that people are voting UKIP instead of Tory, or any other party is because they don’t see the government talking, let alone acting tough ENOUGH on immigration.

“Immigration has fallen and been tightened up and yet the public still don’t believe it or don’t know about it.” WRONG. All the millions of people who are obsessed about immigration believe that whatever the government has done IT’S NOT ENOUGH.

When are you going to face facts, Sunny.

Like it or not, that’s how people are.

4. Patrick James

We can see that the number of people who think that immigration is best managed by the Conservative party is falling.

My guess is that the reason for this is that now we are in the reality of having the Conservatives in government. In opposition the Conservatives were happy to promote the idea that a cap would be the way to manage immigration. That sounded good to those that worry about immigration, however the reality of the cap is that it is a way to “let in” immigrants you don’t really need and keep out the ones you do need.

So now that the Conservatives are dealing with the reality of immigration the public is seeing that it is more complicated than it seemed when the cap idea was being promoted by them.

The best system is the points system introduced by Labour and the Conservatives are having some difficulty in admitting that.

So, now the Conservatives are looking like they don’t really know how to manage immigration. They would be better to just admit that Labour’s points system is the best way.

“This also means that if Labour act tough on welfare or immigration, the public doesn’t hear it or believe it. Which means the party is better of dropping the posturing and focusing on sensible policies and linking the issues to the economy”

Fair enough but I think it’d be daft considering Doncaster being next door to Rotherham.

So now that the Conservatives are dealing with the reality of immigration the public is seeing that it is more complicated than it seemed when the cap idea was being promoted by them.

I highly doubt this. if they think its more complicated than before, why is public trust in Tories to manage immigration falling?

7. white trash

Sunny asks again “… why is public trust in Tories to manage immigration falling?”

Again, because the Tories aren’t being tough ENOUGH for a lot of people’s taste.

Re labour’s points system: Fail: not lax enough for the dogmatic left, but not tough enough for the emotive right.

8. Charlieman

@1. Shatterface: “Which means, since being tough on welfare snd immigration are Millipedes Big Themes, that their posturing is both morally repunant and electorially useless.”

Yes, and LibDems should be ashamed that Nick Clegg talked “tough” nonsense this morning before contradicting himself. See Simon Titley:
http://liberator-magazine.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/nick-cleggs-dog-whistle-politics.html

Hint: If you don’t want UKIP to win votes, stop highlighting UKIP policies.

The aim is to stoke up pervasive concerns about Immigration so these spending cuts on social care get overlooked in the outrage:

Care system now ‘unsustainable’ after £3bn cuts, social services chiefs warn

The elderly care system has become “unsustainable” and could “crack” within the next two years because of funding cuts, social services chiefs warned as it emerged they are being forced to slash spending by another £800 million this year.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/elderhealth/10042070/Care-system-now-unsustainable-after-3bn-cuts-social-services-chiefs-warn.html

“As I’ve said repeatedly – posturing and ‘acting tough‘ on issues like welfare and immigration by Labour cuts little ice with the public.”

Indeed – and quite possibly that posturing simply reinforces the impression there is a crisis.

I think you’ve underplayed constant scare stories in the newspapers, which become part of popular myth.

In Scotland, we have a declining population, and all the same scare stories about immigration, which people believe.

(Although there isn’t the same tendency to vote UKIP or BNP, despite having proportional representation in council and Holyrood elections.)

“Which party is best able to handle the issue of Immigration and Asylum?” is not just a leading question, it is a strong statement that there is something wrong that needs fixing and a demand to point at some likely contender to fix it. Answers to such a bullying question are always going to yield unreliable and meaning-light patterns of answer. Although some people like white trash might have clear views of a rigid type, my own experience and life leaves me unsure about what issues there are. I sense that others are similarly muddled. I would have to ask the questioner what issues they had in mind. And while I was about it I would want to know how and why immigration and asylum (whatever they meant by those terms) featured in the same question.

Political punditry fails to the extent that it uses its own shorthand vocabularies to gather “data” from voters whose vocabularies and priorities might be congruent but probably aren’t.

On emotionally loaded topics a great deal of ethnography and a much lighter sprinkling of polling might be helpful. Positivist social science was wearing thin in the 1960s. Isn’t it about time radical politics stopped wasting their intellects dissecting weakly theorised “data” with graphs and projections?

13. Charlieman

@12. Sam Saunders: “On emotionally loaded topics a great deal of ethnography and a much lighter sprinkling of polling might be helpful. Positivist social science was wearing thin in the 1960s. Isn’t it about time radical politics stopped wasting their intellects dissecting weakly theorised “data” with graphs and projections?”

On the other hand, a bit of plain English might work well.

It’s no good complaining now about how the discussion of immigration is all over the place and often isn’t coherent and logical. The left played their part too in making it a bitter minefield of an issue and helped poison all debate. They meant well of course and felt that they had to defeat racists and ”Nazis”. And the way to do this was the ”not an inch” attitude to ”the racists” (ie, a pretty big lump of Middle England opinion).

There was a report that came out a couple of weeks ago naming the best and worst places to live in England and the UK. In England, Harrogate was the best and Lewisham in London the worst. Compare and contrast perhaps.
My hometown of Croydon came in as the second worst place to live – or scariest or unhappiest place.

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/450807/20130327/london-unhappy-place-harrogate-happy-greater-uk.htm

See the picture they have used – outside West Croydon railway station, where it’s poor, transient and very very divesre. Bedsitland. The ‘new England’.

The reason why this debate isn’t actually a debate, is that some people will see West Croydon as a fantastic place and want that model rolled out across the whole country, and others hate it.

Btw, when I saw that Lewisham was the ”least happy place to live” I was reminded of the National Front march that was famously attacked and sent packing in 1977.
There’s an image I’ve seen, of a NF Teddy Boy looking guy on the ground, getting a kick in the head from a black guy that day.
Lewisham used to be have Teddy Boys once, and in the 70s there was a bit of a revival. Seems like a long time ago now and a lot of Lewisham people today wouldn’t even know what the term ”Teddy Boy” meant.

15. MarkAustin

Could the reason for the fall in support be that the public realises that, as long as we remain members of the EU, the government cannot do anything about the main source of immigration?

@14 Damon

‘Seems like a long time ago now and a lot of Lewisham people today wouldn’t even know what the term ”Teddy Boy” meant’

I am an example of a Lewisham person who has no idea what a “Teddy Boy” is. If Lewisham is the worst place to live in the UK then Britain must be a good place to live.

Back on topic, these days it seems the main political parties base their polices around what is neccessary to get into power, hence both labour and the tories focus on immigration. This is a result of our unfornutate fptp system which has resulted in both Labour and the Tories moving to the centre. They need to appeal to enough of the electorate to win 50% of the seats, so it is all about being populist rather than having polices that their MPs/leadership actually believe in.

17. Uncle Beelzebub

@ 16 Fungus

I am an example of a Lewisham person who has no idea what a “Teddy Boy” is.

Google is your friend!

I am an example of a Lewisham person who has no idea what a “Teddy Boy” is.

Oh dear Fungus, what the young people don’t know today. It’s a bit like that UKIP woman who asked was tuna a fish. But the past (someone said) is a different country. When you look at this now it’s difficult to think of it in the modern Lewisham.
From the Observer archive, 16 September 1956: Teddy boys run riot when the clock strikes one.

The culture has changed and moved on since those days.
Immigration and settlement of black and minority ethnic people into places like that changed it in a different way too …to where I am now in the City of Gloucester for example. So while a huge chunk of Lewisham’s black residents aren’t immigrants, it still has a different kind of culture to a place like Gloucester where the local population didn’t change as much.
It’s a really difficult and subjective thing to try to discuss – and I’ve never found a place where it can be discussed properly. It’s too sensitive and higly charged as an issue.

I’d like to know better about how race ‘works as an issue’ here, as Gloucester surprisingly has quite a visible black population. In terms of England and most black people though, they are somewhat country bumpkins, stuck in the middle of Gloucestershire. Not the most urban and happening place.
But still subject to more than their fair share of attention from the police I have read. About five more times likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people. I’d like to ask the police why they do this, but it’s not the sort of thing you can just go and ask.
People are ”obsessed” with immigration as it’s an issue to do with race. And if you’ve ever seen the long bookshop shelves of books on race (in the US particularly) then everyone else being a bit obsessed by it is completely understandable in my opinion.

I don’t know how many Eastern Europeans have gone to South Africa, but I was talking to one guy who said there were quite a number now, working jobs in resturants, coffee shops and the like.
I’m sure that would be an issue if some black South Africans felt they were getting passed over in favour of the white migarnts. Of course that would be a legitimate concern if it was happening.

The reason is Lynton Crosby.

If that doesn’t ring any bells, try googling.

20. Charlieman

18. damon: “…to where I am now in the City of Gloucester for example. So while a huge chunk of Lewisham’s black residents aren’t immigrants, it still has a different kind of culture to a place like Gloucester where the local population didn’t change as much.”

You get about a lot, Damon. I cannot deny envy.

“People are ”obsessed” with immigration as it’s an issue to do with race. And if you’ve ever seen the long bookshop shelves of books on race (in the US particularly) then everyone else being a bit obsessed by it is completely understandable in my opinion.”

UK race history is not like that of the USA. UK merchants transported slaves (which is horrific) but farmers in the USA/West Indies traded and used “legal slaves”. No man or woman on English soil at that time could be a “legal slave”; every person had the same limited rights as a common man or woman.

Charlieman, there’s nothing to envy about living in bedsits and either earning low wages or being unemployed.

More generally, here’s a must-watch Panorama programme on tonight.

Former England and Arsenal footballer Sol Campbell investigates why the unemployment rate for young black British men is roughly double that of their white counterparts. He follows four under-25-year-olds in their search for that all-important first job, and asks: are employers to blame, or do young black men need to work harder at finding work?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01skbpd

Being Sol Campell I’m not expecting a very high level of reporting. He’s the guy who warned black football fans that if they went to Ukraine for the Euro Championships, that they might come back in a box.
I heard a clip of tonight’s programme on the radio this morning and he was definitely going for the ”is it that the employers are all racists?” angle.
Saying that employers probably wanted to employ ”people who looked like them”.

Which is a bit bizarre when you think of how diverse our workforce in urban areas of England actually is.
In the West End hotels of London for example, they employ non-white British people to a massive degree, yet the young black guys this programme is about (who live only a few miles away) still can’t seem to get those jobs. Blame it on the racist hotel personel staff he suggests.

This is probably one of the reasons we are so ”obsessed” by the race issue.
Because of view’s like Sol Campbell’s …. and Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote’s, who just see’s racism everywhere – because people in towns like this one (Gloucester) don’t particularly want it to become like Hackney perhaps. He seems to think if you are reluctant to live in a Hackney or Brixton-like environment, you must be a filthy racist.
There aren’t really any other options.

That kind of view gets on my nerves I have to admit.
Like Joseph Harker insisting that men who have grown up in Pakistan are just the same as men who have grown up in England. Dispite the obvious differences in the social attitudes in the two countries.
And that guys from Pakistan will be the same around young women who are doing things that they would never let women from their own families do.
That they won’t think that teenage girls who drink and smoke with boys over in the park ”are slags” or anything. And that they will look on this as just a normal part of growing up and not think to take advantage of them if they seem to have no males or adults protecting them.
In Pakistan they might, but once they come to England, we pretend that this idea is just left behind once they get on the airplane. It’s probably not I think.

22. joanne cooper

who on earth is actively going to YouGov and completing these polls?

@joanne cooper

YouGov has large panel of regular respondents. Anyone can sign up via their website. Once signed up you are sent emails inviting you to fill in one poll or another. Mostly they are just consumer surveys. Each poll you fill in gains points towards a cash reward or offers a a chance to win a prize in a draw. http://yougov.co.uk/

24. Tremor Mendous

2) It shows how little attention voters pay to news, announcements, speeches and impact of policy. Immigration has fallen and been tightened up and yet the public still don’t believe it or don’t know about it. So their faith in the government’s handle on the issue keeps falling.

This is the most important point – driven by the agenda set by the newspapers – there always has to be a scapegoat for the crisis of capitalism.

Far be it for people to actually look at the bankers and the businessmen whose greed helped it along – people would rather get angry at things they can ‘easily identify’.

Immigrants only come to Britain because there are jobs for them to do. If the people of Britain wanted to stop immigration it would be simple – stop employing cheap foreign labour.

Sadly the interests of giant corporations are not the same as the tried and confused working class man on the street – despite what the SUN claims.

25. white trash

“If the people of Britain wanted to stop immigration it would be simple – stop employing cheap foreign labour.”

Er, the problem with your comment is simple, and obvious – “the people of Britain” are not one collective hive mind to make any such decision.

26. Stephen Gash

And there were we thinking it was Labour that was/is obsessed with immigration as admitted by both Ed Miliband and Peter Mandelson.


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