The people who are against him, he tells us, are either the racist anti-immigrant BNP, or the cynical vested interests who want the floodgates open so they can profit from cheap labour. If these are the extreme then a nice modern, progressive Tory who merely wants to keep out bad immigrants and welcome the good is bound to be dispensing true wisdom on these issues (read the full speech here).
Like a lot of political speechifying, you wipe away the gloss and there’s not much substance left behind. A farrago of statistic which purport to demonstrate that a clear majority of immigrants come from outside the EU is expected lull us into the idea that net arrivals can be reduced by simply asserting more rigorous control of the UK visa system.
But this sleight of hand only works if we count non-EU international students in the net migration figures. Around 380,000 arrived in this capacity at the current rate of entry and they look like soft targets to for a large number to be chopped. Only problem is that this high-added value group of new arrivals contribute around £8 billion to the economy each year, so moving against them looks like a massive own goal.
In its drive to push down net migration numbers the government is steadily assembling a new phalanx of critics and opponents who are decidedly not extremists on the issue of migration, but rather ordinary people who are asking ‘Dude, what happened to my prosperity?’ It is beginning to dawn on more people that the levels of migration of the past mid-decade were not primarily associated with job loss and declining public services, but rather what now looks like an almost golden age of prosperity and public service improvements. Increasingly the question is being asked by the thinking public, if inward migration is associated with economic growth, isn’t there a real danger that zero migration will add to stagnation and poorer services?
Mr Cameron’s speech is being given today as part of a determined effort to stop this public questioning getting off the ground. We shouldn’t let that happen. This is a conversation not driven by the extremes, but by people with serious points to make and important evidence to bring to the table. Let’s hear them as well as the Prime Minister’s dodgy rhetoric.