Friday, 21 May 2010

Immigration policy requires an open debate

There were at least two elephants in the room in the recent General Election. None of the parties were prepared to spell out in any sort of detail the size and targets of the public spending cuts the country faces, because of New Labour's massive national debt legacy.
The other forbidden subject was immigration – the issue at the top of many voters’ concerns. This is why Gordon Brown’s remarks after his confrontation with Rochdale pensioner Gillian Duffy were so explosive.
A life-long Labour voter, she asked him: "…but all these eastern European what are coming in, where are they flocking from?" Still wearing his radio mike, Brown was recorded describing Duffy as "just a sort of bigoted woman" as he drove away.
The exchange was a stake in the heart for Labour’s electoral prospects, because it exposed the fudge at the centre of its immigration policy.
Duffy’s question to Brown wasn’t about race or colour, it was about numbers. For this, behind her back, she was condemned as a bigot.
The debate about immigration has been stifled because people are reluctant to ask questions about border controls. They fear being accused of racism when they have genuine worries about the pressure on jobs, schools, and hospitals.
For all Labour’s mismanagement of the issue, the white working class were not driven into the arms of the extreme right-wing BNP at the election.
The great British virtue of tolerance survives when blinkered politicians - many of whom enjoy spacious homes, private medicine for themselves, and public schools for their children - don’t stretch it beyond breaking point.
The open door policy within the EU means stricter controls on the movement of non-EU citizens. I hope this never leads us to turn away genuine asylum seekers. I don’t know how a proper balance can be achieved but hopefully one of the advantages of the Tory-LibDem coalition is that new policies can be determined in a calm examination of the issues and applied fairly.

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