Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Playing The Immigration Card

Monday saw yet another article in the Guardian by MigrationBotch front-man Alan Green, ostensibly in response to an Observer editorial, 'We're still a long way from an honest debate about immigration', the day before. However, it was really prompted by the criticism of Dave™'s, and consequently his and the right-wing anti-immigration press', peddling of the myth of the 70 million.

His little ditty 'How to tackle immigration', with its disingenuous subheading "With rising concern over immigration to the UK, it is important to examine its sources – and how we can limit them", merely rehearsed his tired rhetoric and showed up his lack of grasp of the concepts and terminology involved in the statistics, which he tries to wield in support of his bigotry.

The Observer editorial commenced with a typically liberal sentiment, "It is now generally recognised in British politics that expressing concern about the scale of recent immigration into the country is not necessarily a sign of racism." Unfortunately that is incorrect, as the corollary to it is that the situation that is causing that concern is the 'fault' of the 'excess' of migrants i.e. it is the migrants that are driving down wages (as the Daily Mail claims referencing the recent Equalities and Human Rights Commission report, 'The UK's New Europeans'), causing the lack of social housing, placing a 'burden' on the NHS, etc., etc. It is not the migrants driving down the wages, it is the employers who are willing to pay lower wages in order to maximise their profits. This is exactly the same process that has seen the industrial base in the UK exported to countries where the wages are lower and we do not seem to blame the workers in those countries for being willing to accept lower wages that the good old British worker, do we? It's capitalism stupid! [1]

In a similar fashion, it is every government since Thatcher's (along with every 'aspirational' council tenant who bought their council house) that are to blame for the lack of available social housing, the sort of council houses that were passed down the generations within families just as many manufacturing jobs had been before they moved abroad or disappeared otherwise. And as for the NHS, there would not be one if it had not been for the migrants in the 50's and 60's who kept it staffed and in existence, and it still only just gets by because of the 'imperialistic' drain on the skill base of the rest of the world.

That the Observer then uses the EHRC report, which flatly contradicts an Institute for Public Policy Research report 'The Economic Impacts of Migration on the UK Labour Market' from February last year, as evidence that "There is no doubting the impact of recent, sustained high levels of immigration" is bizarre. The paper erroneously claims that "One predictable effect, the study found, was to hold down wages for skilled and semi-skilled workers in Britain." The report does not even mention any effect on the wages of skilled workers (and the Observer article the same day 'Eastern European immigration 'has hit low-paid Britons'' also does not mention this 'phenomenon'). If they cannot get this simple 'fact' right, then clearly we are "still a long way from an honest debate about immigration."

One thing that this Observer editorial does not mention (though is hinted at in its article on the report, and is needless to say totally ignored in the Mail piece) is that "In many cases the new migrants have precarious employment and housing arrangements, are vulnerable to exploitation, or lack support networks and access to information." In fact, most are stuck in dead-end jobs with little or no prospects of moving up the 'job ladder'.

The Observer editorial ends: "Immigration will feature in the election campaign and rightly so. [2] Parties must explain their policies on a matter of concern to so many voters. But they must explain them honestly. Sadly, there is little chance of that happening. Labour and the Tories may have become freer in their discussion of immigration, but they show no sign of really wanting to dispel the fog of ignorance and prejudice that still shrouds debate on the issue." Obviously this a "fog of ignorance and prejudice" that the paper's editor also appears to suffer from.

Which brings us neatly to Alan Green's (never ending) contribution to the "fog of ignorance and prejudice". Here we have a man who, in his very comfortable retirement, has decided to ride his hobby-horse into the ground. He has become what he clearly appears to believe is a self-taught expert on immigration (we use the term immigration rather than migration because his interest in the subject is specifically that). Except that he constantly lets his ignorance slip. Sometimes it is simple things, such as claiming that "Over the past 50 years, their [the Office of National Statistics] projections at the 20-year range have been accurate to about 2.5% (sic). This actually means nothing. 2.5% of what? What he in fact means is that the estimates are accurate to within 2.5%. A small point, but a very telling one when he cannot even get the terminology right (just as Cameron did when he talked about 'net immigration').

Green follows this faux pas up with the claim that the ONS "have confirmed [in a recent parliamentary answer] that most of last year's fall in immigration has already been factored in to the latest projections." [our emphasis] This is blatantly NOT true. If you read the parliamentary answer and the methodology (which the article helpfully gives links to): "The assumptions for the 2008-based projections are based upon final estimates of long-term international migration up to the end of 2007, plus provisional International Passenger Survey (IPS) estimates of long-term international migration for the year ending December 2008. Thus the calculation of the assumptions took into account the decline in long-term international net migration indicated by the provisional IPS estimates published by ONS on 27 August 2009."

So, despite the fact that the figures were published in October last year and that "the 2008-based projections assume annual net migration from [A8 & A2 EU member states] declining from +25,000 for 2009-10 to zero for 2014-15 onwards," it actually says nothing about factoring in the 2008-09 figures as Green states. Nor does it say what estimates for the decline from a net migration figure of 163,000 in 2008 they used. [3]

In a recent blog we pointed out, as others have done, Green's claim that immigration is the major factor for future population growth. Here he repeats it again: "Nor it is correct to say that the birth rate is more crucial than net migration in determining population growth. If you take account of the children of future immigrants, then immigration accounts for 68% of population growth." The big problem is that he wants to have his cake and eat it. You cannot count the same figures twice. In population statistics, migration is migration and natural population growth (births minus deaths) is natural population growth.

Yes, future migrants will be younger and more fertile than the existing ageing UK population but that is totally irrelevant for these statistics. If future immigrants were all older and less fertile that the current population no doubt he would be using that as a stick to beat them with.

He then claims that: "The public are increasingly conscious of this – which is why 85% express concern that our population is projected to hit 70 million in 2029." [4] Yet a similar survey he frequently quotes from also found that 36% wanted a population of less than 50 million, whilst 40% did not know what the optimum population size for the UK should be. Lies, damned lies and statistics, eh! And it is 84% by the way.

He then goes on to give his options for cutting immigration: "The first thing is to exclude asylum from this discussion. Asylum seekers account for only 10% of net foreign immigration and only one-third of those are granted protection. [5] The rest face the quite different problem of removal," listing EU migrants (he hopes wont be too much of a 'problem' in the future); students (must leave after study unless they "entered a genuine marriage" or got a work permit); spouses and fiancées (reduce non-"genuine marriages by British citizens") but his big answer is a cap on economic migration at 20,000.

We are too bored with all this to examine his 'thoughts' any further, short to say his is the sort of discourse, despite his denials elsewhere, that Roland Schilling, the UK representative of the Office of the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees, no doubt meant when he warned that the current disgraceful level of debate risked being hijacked by dangerous anti-immigrant groups [MigrationBotch, surely not?] and would push potential refugees further into the "shadowy world dominated by gangsters and people smugglers."

[1] "The recent migration may have reduced wages slightly at the bottom end of the labour market, especially for certain groups of vulnerable workers, and there is a risk that it could contribute to a ‘low-skill equilibrium’ in some economically depressed local areas." This is all based on "A relatively limited evidence base [that] suggests that eastern European immigration has brought economic benefits, including greater labour market efficiency and potential increases in average wages." [both quotes 'The UK's New Europeans']
[2] Just how much immigration will feature in the coming election rests largely on how the Tories approach the subject and, given that their own analysis showed that their attempts to exploit the immigration card backfired, they may have learnt their lesson and largely steer clear of the issue. The BNP, UKIP and Alan Green will however have something to say on the subject.
[3] Unfortunately, Green's Observer article gives a link to Population Trends No. 128, with figures only up to 2006, as a link to illustrate "last year's fall in immigration". About as useful as the proverbial chocolate teapot. In fact, in the first 3 months of 2009 there were 23,000 work permit applications from E8 workers (down from down from 48,755 in the same period in 2008) and 26,150 in the second quarter (down from 46,070 the year before).
[4] Not surprising really when the question "How would you feel about a population of this size?" Gave as answer options: Delighted / Wouldn’t mind / Slightly worried / Very worried / Don’t know.
[5] And of course asylum applications have been severely cut back on over the years, so it would be too obvious to hit them yet again. Though you could always increase the refusal rate.

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