UK: Gordon Brown opens door for migration debate.

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Sep 10 13:25:21 UTC 2007

Door opens for migration debate

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 09/09/2007

Gordon Brown has made another move to dominate the centre ground of
British politics, the turf where the next election will be won and
lost. As we report exclusively today, he will pledge to tackle
immigration by tightening the language restrictions on immigrants. The
rule that workers coming from outside the EU for high-skill jobs must
be able to speak English will be extended to those coming for
medium-skill jobs. The Prime Minister also will "consider" imposing it
on all non-EU migrants. If effectively implemented, the proposal could
have a dramatic effect on immigration. It signals that Mr Brown is at
least not trying to stifle debate about the issue. That was Mr Blair's
preferred option. He closed down discussion on immigration very
effectively, simply by accusing anyone who raised it of being

The refusal of an honest and open debate has, up until now, been the
hallmark of Labour policy. There was next to nothing on the topic in
the party's last two manifestos. Labour has followed a policy of
encouraging immigration to Britain from countries outside the EU, but
has rarely, if ever, owned up to that fact. The result - a net inflow
of around 200,000 people into Britain every year - means that the
British electorate are the subject of a massive social experiment.
Neither its advocates nor anyone else knows what the consequences of
that experiment will be. British voters, however, have never been
given any opportunity to register their endorsement or dissent from
it. Mr Brown's decision to introduce a policy with the explicit intent
of restricting the flow of immigrants should change that, and we
welcome it.

A national debate on the issue poses a potential dilemma for David
Cameron and the Conservative Party. Mr Cameron has been so eager to
distance himself and the Conservatives from accusations of being
fixated on an outdated vision of Britain that he has been very
reluctant to make clear statements about immigration. It is notable
that in his article "What makes me a Conservative", in yesterday's
Daily Telegraph, there was nothing about immigration - a topic near
the top of voters' concerns.

The Prime Minister's latest initiative may force Mr Cameron into a
more explicit statement of what he thinks Tory - and British - policy
in this area should be. There are, of course, dangers here too. Mr
Brown is trying to outflank the Opposition by seizing the initiative
on immigration, and the moment Mr Cameron responds with a clear policy
of his own, Mr Brown is likely to revert to Labour type, and attack it
as reflecting "the same old Tory prejudice." But Labour is very
vulnerable on the issue. The enormous increase in immigration to
Britain over the last decade is almost entirely the consequence of
Labour's conviction that it can only bring benefits to the country.

While most economists are far less sanguine than Labour ministers
about the benefits of immigration, there is agreement on one point: it
has the potential to change British society beyond recognition. Voters
realise it, and want their concerns to shape the Government's policy.
It seems that now, finally, there is a chance that they actually will.
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