Is Immigration Really Ignored by Politicians?

Deborah Mattinson, pollster and electoral strategist for Gordon Brown:

‘Immigration, perhaps more than any other issue, illustrates the disconnect between the voter and the Westminster Village. … Anyone watching or conducting political focus groups for the first time would often come back shocked at the voters’ vehemence about immigration. …

I think it is important to be clear here that the strength of feeling I witnessed night after night in front rooms around the country does not mean that most people are racist. This is one of the gravest misunderstandings between the voter and the political classes. Quite simply it is that middle ground voters felt he economic security of their own families to be permanently under threat.

I fed back voters feelings as faithfully as I could, as often as I could, but it was never top of anyone’s agenda, and there was never much of an appetite to listen or act. Politicians seemed in paralysis: unwilling either to make the positive case for immigration or to do anything about it. [Pgs 132-4]

If that was true during the last government, is it true now? Mehdi Hassan was arguing on 10 O’Clock Live on Thursday that this is a complete myth: we do nothing BUT talk about immigration: the first question in the first ever televised leaders’ debate was about immigration, we now have a government that has promised to bring immigration down to the “tens of thousands“, and Ed Miliband is making speeches about how Labour “got it wrong” on immigration.

60% of people currently think immigration has been bad for the country. If politicians are only just starting to have the guts to talk about the downside of immigration, they certainly don’t have the guts to talk about the good side. Until they do, that number won’t change.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Is Immigration Really Ignored by Politicians?

  1. Dave Osborne

    People’s perception of the immigration issue has to be seen in the context of a wider newfound utter distrust of politicians amongst the public. This distrust is regardless of whether we talk about immigration all the time or not at all; the point is that people do not believe that we are talking openly and frankly about the real issues.

    Remember the scandal where a former Labour speech-writer claimed Jack Straw, Tony Blair et al formed immigration policy based on social engineering? The claim was that they deliberately allowed uncontrolled mass immigration in order to create a more multicultural Britain, which would force the right wing to face diversity (and ultimately end up with a more left-leaning population)? Straw denied the claim, but a few months later an FOI request appeared to prove the accusation of social engineering had some grounds. Labour had removed all references to social change from an immigration report before publishing it. Not amended, not updated, but just completely removed. Let’s not talk about it, let’s pretend there is no social impact to consider.

    This is why people don’t trust politicians to tell us the truth on these issues. Maybe social change of this nature was a good, desirable thing. Maybe if we’d talked about it openly we would have all agreed, yes we do want to become more multicultural, yes we do want more diverse communities, and yes we do agree and understand the economic benefits. But when the cabinet ministers make decisions on policies like this behind closed doors and then deliberately conceal their reasons from the public, it is patronising paternalism. It’s ‘we’ll do what’s best for them even though they won’t like it, even though they gave us their mandate to act on their behalf’.

    Conspiracy or no conspiracy, much of the hand-wringing public are socially conservative. They feel that they weren’t consulted on immigration and that they weren’t asked whether they wanted to join Europe. They feel that these things cannot be reversed, and that it is too late now to suddenly pretend everyone is talking openly. Politicians need to build trust again with the public before this feeling will go away.

    Here’s a link to the story.

  2. I know what you mean – the debate is happening long after the facts on the ground have changed. Now it’s something that everyone just has to put up with. It’s makes you think , if the biggest changes in our politics are those no-one discusses at the time, what big changes are happening now?

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