Richard North, 08/01/2014  

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There has been "no proper debate for many, many years" on UK immigration, says the arrogant Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor trailing his programme broadcast yesterday evening called "The Truth About Immigration".

Translated, what Robinson is actually saying is that there has been no proper debate on the BBC, in the legacy media generally and in the political classes.  With the arrogance common to these breeds, they assume that, unless they have been front and centre, there has been no debate at all.

In fact, the one achievement UKIP can properly claim is to have put the debate on the map, so much so that the BBC is being forced, belatedly, to join a debate that has been going on for years in the pubs and clubs, in ordinary homes and on the blogs and social media.

Last August I wrote that, from a purely electoral perspective, Mr Farage was right to push the immigration button. Whether, of course, this will further the anti-EU cause remains to be seen.

Not least is the complexity of the issue, reflected by the findings of the British Social Attitudes Survey. On the one hand, it shows that 77 percent of the public want to see a reduction in immigration and a significant increase in the number who want immigration reduced "a lot", up from 51 percent in 2011 to 56 percent in 2013.

However, it continues, "despite concern about unemployment rates, falling wages and spending cuts, and high profile debates over migration from Romania and Bulgaria, fewer people now than in 2011 think immigration is bad for the economy – 47 percent in 2013 compared with 52 percent".

Says NatCen, the author of the survey, the figures reveal some of the complexity surrounding public attitudes to immigration. Many people who believe immigration to be good for the UK also express concern about its current level. Some 54 percent who see immigration as good for the economy and 55 percent of those who see it is as culturally beneficial also want to see immigration reduced.

On the other hand, there are those who are uncomfortable with the UKIP style, which is closer to BNP than the party would admit. But, in focusing on EU immigration – the smaller part of the whole – it misses several important points.

Firstly, immigrants from EU member states are more likely to be economically active, and less likely to draw state benefits. The real drains on taxpayer funds are Asian and African. Secondly, there is something that few have picked up, and of which the media seems blissfully unaware.

In some of the stress areas –in West Yorkshire towns and cities – the influx of white immigrants from central and eastern Europe is providing healthy competition for the resident Pakistani population. For the settled residents, for the first time in decades, the Asian hordes are being held in check.

For Farage to focus on eastern Europeans, therefore, it not going to attract as much support as might be expected.

What we do get from Farage, though, is an admission – via the Guardian - that his party "did not have a total policy solution on immigration". It had, he said, been discussing how to locate and deal with the estimated one to two million illegal immigrants in the UK, as well as improvements to border checks.

"To have a total policy solution after the disaster that has engulfed us since Labour came to power in 1997 is no easy matter", he then says, beating Sherlock Holmes in the constipation stakes. Mr Farage should perhaps have expended some effort in policy development before he made immigration his keynote policy.

That leaves room for the likes of Mr Carswell to offer his own ideas, suggesting that Switzerland offers a suitable alternative model, telling us that the Swiss "have control over their own borders by virtue of being outside the EU". Once we have left the EU, we could do so, too. Carswell seems to be unaware that the Swiss themselves are holding a referendum on 9 February in a bid to stem the tide of immigration.

The Swiss, in fact, signed an agreement on 21 June 1999 with the EU on the Free Movement of Persons. This extended the right of free movement to citizens of EEA Member States, complemented by the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, the right to buy property, and the coordination of social security systems.

By the end of 2012, 23.3 percent of the 8,039,060 population was foreign, compared with 13 per cent (7.5 million) in England and Wales. Of the 1,869,969 foreigners in Switzerland, 85.1 percent are European. Three-quarters are nationals of an EU or EFTA member state.

Contrary to an assertion that the Swiss model is "the only way to regain control of our borders", Ueli Maurer, Swiss president of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), argues that "Switzerland has given up its freedom to be able to determine its own policies".

Robinson in his programme, though, puts the case for the economic benefits, and then takes us to Sheffield to look at the Roma. By coincidence, Der Spiegel runs a long piece of the fate of the Roma, "Europe's unwanted people". There is a problem here, that European politicians haven't even begun to address and, with 225,000 Roma over here, local communities are having to pick up the pieces of policy failure.

Enoch Powell gets his share of the blame, for making the debate toxic, Robinson then giving the floor to Farage to tell us that Powell was right. We then cut to Southampton where one in twelve households have no-one who speaks English, a local headmistress tells us the schools are full and there is a Polish-speaking radio show.

Waves of people have come, from Afghanistan and Somalia and many other points. The population has more than doubled, which allows Robinson to take mock his audience by inviting them to guess the percentage of immigrants, getting the expected over-estimates.

Robinson tracks the influx down to 1989 with the fall of the Berlin wall and EU expansion into the east. He focuses on EU immigration, and the "massive influx" that arose, moving on to worry about the need to fill the jobs to keep the economy booming. We are told of this government report from the year 2000, all 73 pages of it, which cast immigration as an opportunity rather than a threat.

There should have been more debate says Yvette Cooper, but debate is not on the agenda from the BBC. This is about closing down the debate. The failure of certain immigrant classes to integrate is not mentioned. The benefits issue is not discussed. The preferences given to immigrants on social housing lists is not mentioned. "Multiculuralism" is noticeable by its absence.

Yet we do here about Britain's "genius" for absorbing immigrants. All we are allowed to hear is the complaints of settled immigrant, such as some carefully sanitized Sikhs, complaining about the new influx. This, then, is still a subject that the BBC can't handle and an hour of television time doesn't make the difference.

The thing is, though, with or without the BBC, the debate continues. Farage has cast himself at the centre of that debate, and the test of his effectiveness will – in part - be measured at the euro-elections.

But, if Farage hasn't a policy, it takes Vincent Cable to demonstrate that the government hasn't one either. Unintended effects of such actions that are taken are doing damage to universities and UK higher education. Applications from some of the economic powerhouses have been plummeting.

There is even a crisis in the £4.5bn curry industry in Britain as immigrant chefs from Bangladesh are being turned away. That gives us a hook in the dying embers of the programme to talk briefly about Bangladeshis, and the possibility of an increase in the price of chicken tikka if more immigrants are not let in.

Nothing is said of Pakistanis, much less that Kashmiris, the Iraqis, Afghans, the Somalis, and the other non-Europeans. Less immigration will mean more cost for the rest of us, is the message that Robinson wants us to take home, giving Farage the floor only to tell us that some things matter more than money.

To counter that, we are told immigration is good for most of us. The politicians should be blunt with us, and tell us the truth, Robinson says. There are stark choices between economics and listening to what the public want. And there's precious little you can do, Robinson tells Teresa May.

"We have failed to discuss the downside, are we in danger of ignoring the upside?", Robinson then concludes. "It is time for that frank, honest and open discussion that we've never really had", he says. But do not hold your breath. You really won't get it from the BBC. But are we going to get it anywhere else?


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