It's time the immigration debate grew up and grew out of UKIP

EDITOR'S BLOG: Little England miserablism isn't going to get us anywhere, says Matthew Gwyther.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 01 Apr 2015

I spent part of last week in Lithuania where they were celebrating the 25th anniversary of kicking out the heirs of Lenin. Now they are going to need our support if the latter day Vladimir, Putin, starts trying to jackboot his way into their country plus their neighbours in Latvia and Estonia.

The Wizz flight from Luton to Vilnius was jam packed both ways. There were Brit-born business people going to do stuff out there and loads of Lithuanians coming to do stuff here. (Including help produce the print edition of  Management Today, which goes to press today.) Which is exactly what freedom of labour and movement within the EU is and should be about. It’s called economic activity and it benefits all of us.

I returned home to more of the inherent, little English miserabilist nastiness of UKIP. Farage was upping the ante by suggesting that whole swathes of race equality legislation should be repealed. Allowing boarding houses to put ‘No Irish, no blacks, no dogs’ signs in their windows will, of course, solve all our problems. As the election approaches he really is starting to show his true colours. Not that they weren’t clearly apparent to many years back.  

I really wonder when somebody in politics is going to make a stand against some of the mendacious clap trap that flies around as an excuse for a mature debate about immigration.  It’s now becoming obvious that inward migration has been one of the factors that has kept us out of a Greek or Italian style post-2008 stuck.

It’s not often one reads something praiseworthy in The Guardian these days  - certainly not the disgraceful neo-Stalinist line some of its hacks take on Ukraine for example - but Jonathan Portes this morning has it spot on:

‘As a recent University College London study showed, the average profile of a recent migrant is more likely to be a young graduate from western or eastern Europe working in the financial, tech or creative services than our more traditional image of an unskilled migrant labourer.

‘Neither Conservatives nor Labour, going into a highly charged General Election campaign, want to make the link between Britain’s economic recovery and the higher levels of mass migration, but it nevertheless remains a major factor.’

When I got back I attended a lunch at the Entrepreneur's Network at the Adam Smith Institute entitled ‘The Migration of Talent: Why We Should Welcome Those Who Can Make Our Country Greater’. We were addressed by Tory MP Mark Field, who is a rare example of enlightened attitudes about migration.

One woman around the table had just returned from a visit to drum up business for UK plc in India. At every meeting she attended of the great and the good she made a point of asking if any of their kids were currently being educated in the UK. Not one put his or her hand up. They were all going to Canada, New Zealand, the States or staying at home. They felt very unwelcomed by a nation that now wants to treat them - yet again -  like third class citizens despite the fact that they have tens of thousands of pounds to spend on quality UK higher education. This is a disaster and bodes very badly for our future commercial relationship with a coming superpower. It is the last way in the world you win friends, influence people and then get them to invest.

Read more: Can the British university stay top dog?

It’s to the shame of Theresa May that she has allowed this to occur on her watch. To Vince Cable’s shame that he has been barely able to resist the illiberal diktats of the Home Office. And it’s to the shame of the rest of us that a country that welcomed Huguenots and Jews has allowed itself to be dragged down into a spit-flecked Daily Mail style economically illiterate conversation that rarely raises itself above the level of raging about Roma pickpockets.

We have a choice to make. Either we realise that our future as a small, broke and increasingly insignificant nation lies in keeping our doors open to those from outside who would partner with or even join us, or we haul up the drawbridge and accept the miserabilist judgments of disaffected white, late middle-aged and old men from Clacton who yearn for… Well what exactly? A jolly pint and a Silk Cut with Nige, powdered egg, jumpers for goalposts and shooting down Messerschmidts, all with a bit of Thatcher-style Argie-whipping mixed in.

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