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By Philippe Legrain 1 COMMENT

In last year’s UK general election, Labour lambasted the Conservatives for plastering posters all over the country declaring that "It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration". But now John Reid, the home secretary, has started sounding a lot like Michael Howard.

He says he wants to end the "daft, so-called politically correct notion that anybody who talks about immigration is somehow a racist", and he plans to set up an independent advisory committee that would help "tell us the optimum level of immigration … beneficial in terms of enhancing the economy and commensurate with our social stability".

At one level, of course, Reid is right: one can talk about immigration
without being a racist. Indeed, one can support immigration controls
for non-racist reasons: greens may fear that an extra influx of people
would put a strain on the environment, for instance, while trade
unionists may worry about the impact on the jobs of their members,
black and white.

The people who believe these things may or may not be
racists; but those beliefs in themselves are not racist.

But that is not the real issue here. By attacking the straw man that
"anybody who talks about immigration is somehow a racist", Reid is
signalling to people who are opposed to immigration – for racist or
non-racist reasons – that he shares their concerns. In effect, he is
saying "whether the true motivation for your hostility to immigration
is racist or not, so long as you can justify it in non-racist terms, it
is acceptable – and I share your worries".

As for the notion that a committee, let alone one set up by an agency
as incompetent as the Home Office, could determine an "optimum level of
immigration", this is utterly fanciful. For a start, the "optimum
level" depends on a host of subjective factors: some people may think
that even a few immigrants are a threat to "social stability", while
Londoners may believe that a high level of immigration enhances
society.

What’s more, no committee has enough information or foresight
to decide how many foreign workers the British economy needs. How
exactly is it supposed to determine precisely how many immigrants are
needed in which occupations, let alone how this will change over time?

Imagine if such a system operated within Britain: a committee would
decide how many plasterers were needed in Liverpool, set limits on how
many waiters could move to London, or decree that Llandudno should
receive exactly 532 workers from outside Wales.

Such manpower planning
was a hallmark of the Soviet Union – and look how that ended up.
However wise or insightful Reid’s proposed committee might turn out to
be, it cannot hope to second-guess the ever-changing decisions made by
millions of employers and workers as to who should be employed doing
what and where.

In truth, John Reid’s real aim is not to frame an immigration policy
that is optimal for the economy, or society at large. It is to show
that he has got a grip on the immigration dossier that has bedevilled
his predecessors. He may succeed – but only by placing the government’s
short-term political interests ahead of the country’s long-term
economic interests.

Playing to the racist gallery and fostering the
illusion that the government can set an optimal level of immigration is
no way to run a sensible immigration policy.

Posted 07 Aug 2006 in Blog
  1. name withheld until the begging is over says:

    All I can say is that I am astounded at the current UK immigration legislation. I am british by birth and completed most of my schooling in the UK. My three children are british citizens. I am the only member of my family NOT living in the UK and yet when I recently applied for a settlement visa for my South African born wife so that I could take up a firm job offer in the UK near my family it was declined! Reason given: The control officer felt we didn’t satisfy paragraph 281 notwithstanding the fact that she miscalculated the amount of cash we have and somehow didn’t see the letter from my UK employer offering me a well paid job which I can start as soon as I arrive back in the UK. To top it all the control officer said we are able to settle anywhere else in the world or even stay in South Africa so she is not contravening any human rights act! Just who are these tighter immigration laws supposed to be protecting? To deny an englishman the right to return to his country with his wife and family is outrageous. Thousands of Illegal immigrants and asylum seekers are allowed into MY country every year but I am refused entry with my family. I now have to go through an entire appeal process, begging arrogant incompetent individuals to give me the right to live in MY OWN COUNTRY. The immigration rules regarding spouses and children of british citizens are clearly unconstitutional and the government needs a serious wakeup call.

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