Immigration is one of the biggest issues facing our country today. Not because it actually is but more because that is what the media is telling us. Ten years ago immigration was a footnote when questioning the public about what they wanted the government to sort out. These days it has become a bigger talking point on the doorstep than everything bar the economy. Yes even the NHS and Education are less of a talking point than immigration. So why the sea change?
Basically the economy has gone down the tubes and someone has to be to blame and it can’t all be the bankers fault, can it? We have gone from one of the most tolerant societies to one that openly talks about immigration in a bad light. The media whip up a firestorm with stories such as the benefits cheats who get to live in mansions at the tax payers expense but the stories about the hard working people who come over here, pay taxes and enrich our culturally diverse society don’t seem to get as many inches in the written media for some reason?
If I’m awake in time I often leave BBC1 on in the mornings (because Homer Under The Hammer is fantastic) and there is a show called ‘Saints & Scroungers) and practically every single scrounger is a foreign national who shouldn’t be living here. Am I to believe that these people account for more benefits being illegally received than born and bred Brits? Yeah. Right…
The argument I often hear is, ‘well I was born and bred here and they weren’t so why should my taxes pay for their benefits.’ On the face of it a fair point of view but when you dig deeper they don’t just chastise those who don’t work and claim benefits, they chastise those who have jobs as well because they are doing jobs that born and bred Brits could do. I ask them what they think about Brits moving abroad and they don’t have a problem with it. So Brits moving abroad and working is fine but others coming to the UK and doing the same isn’t. I bash my head against a brick wall sometimes.
Angry voices are swelling about immigration and you hear that people want the government of the day – whoever they are – to be tough on immigration. One of my main issues is the loudest voices want the government of the day to be tough on everything. Being tough is the way forward they say but it isn’t however a political party can never be shown to be anything other than tough otherwise they’ll be torn apart in the media. Being tough on crime is one of the main ones and yet locking everyone up and throwing away the key doesn’t actually solve all the problems. The penal system isn’t just about punishment but also about rehabilitation but you can’t say that out loud without sounding soft in the eyes of many.
This leads me to the immigration issue. The country and the economy will prosper if we are open for business. That means foreign companies investing in the UK and it also means skilled nationals from other countries coming here and working. It also means foreign nationals coming to the UK to learn and get educated.
On a society front I hear people argue that they feel more uneasy being around foreigners instead of UK nationals. Personally I have never felt this is the case. It is akin to people saying that foreigners are more criminal than people in this country and that just doesn’t wash with me. We are all human beings when it comes down to it and yes there are bad people in this country who are not helping our economy or society but you know what – the majority of those people are British. Should we tolerant these people and persecute the others just because they were born here? Does being born somewhere give you the right to be treated differently to another person when that is the only difference between the way you are acting? I think not.
The reason I am discussing this today is simple. Nick Clegg spoke today on this issue and the headline is about looking into the feasibility of visitors from certain countries having to pay a bond that they would collect on their way out of the UK once their visa was up. It is a pretty dumb policy in my opinion but they are just looking into it, just like the previous Labour government did twice and the coalition has already looked into. If civil servants think it is feasible then a pilot will be run.
Now that is the headline that was on the news and is in all the online editions of the written media. It doesn’t come across well but the speech wasn’t just about that. A very interesting part was about exit checks and the way they had been scaled down by the previous government. To me it just seems logical that you count and check people in and then check them on the way out as well. Isn’t that just good practice so you know who is where?
I have no issue with being ‘zero-tolerant on abuse’ as long as it doesn’t impinge on those who are wanting to do things legally and would benefit the economy and our society. I know Nick wants to sound tough on immigration and wants to be at the forefront of the debate but the issue now isn’t about actual immigration – it is about how to differentiate between all the main political parties on this issue. They all want to sound tougher and more outraged than the next party whereas in reality the best practical solution would be to sort out the management of the system and ensuring that we know who is here, for what purpose and for how long. If we know that then that is the majority of the battle won. The way I see it our biggest problem isn’t the amount of people who are here but that we don’t know who is here.
Whilst immigration is an issue – as I said earlier it is seen as such a large issue because those with the loudest voices have dictated it to be so. UKIP, the Tories and Labour all want to be seen as the hardest and toughest on immigration and that will play well with many. However there is plenty of room for a sane and reasonable approach to immigration and that is where I hope Nick and the Lib Dems go. If a political party could say (and more important achieve) a situation where they could effectively manage immigration to the point where the country was open to anyone with the skillset that was deemed needed and that students on education visas were free to come and study but with the important caveat that when their visas ended they had to either leave or apply again for either an extended or a different visa then that would be music to my – and a lot of other people’s ears.
Politicians need to remember that the loudest voices are not always the majority of voices. If you can put yourself in a position where the more reasoned voter could believe you could deliver something that made sense then you have a chance with these people. Not everyone votes on the strength of what the media tells them. In fact the truth is most vote based on their own opinions. Not everyone is extreme in their views on immigration so I’d like to see a political party talk to these people – and I for one would like that political party to be the Liberal Democrats.
Immigration is not bad. Uncontrolled immigration might be but the whole issue of immigration is a good thing for all countries around the globe. Finding a way to ensure our doors are flung wide open to the right people is far more important than ensuring the wrong people are finding a way in but we need a balance. If we can find a way to manage immigration – both the good and the bad – then we’ll be going someway to building a better society and economy. The biggest story in Nick’s speech wasn’t the bond issue but the fact we are building up our network of exit checks that the party has been calling for since 2004. Once we have a handle of who is where and who hasn’t left when they should have then we can start effectively managing the whole immigration system. It was a Labour mistake but it is one the Lib Dems are helping to fix.
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