Rishi Sunak is doomed to immigration both ways
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Good morning. Sometimes the obvious conclusion is the right one. Persistently high UK inflation is bad news for households, bad news for businesses and consequently bad news for the government’s re-election hopes.
But some things are less obvious: just this morning, the UK’s record net migration of 606,000 in 2022 is sparking a heated debate about British immigration policy. I think the political consequences of this are far from clear.
Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenkb and please send rumors, thoughts and feedback to [email protected]
Party like it’s 1979
Sometimes a diagram is worth a thousand words.
I don’t have much to add to this, except that Chris Giles’s piece on whether the UK is becoming the ‘sick man’ of Europe again is well worth your time.
As I say, I think the political implication of this is obvious: experiencing economic challenges similar to those of the 1970s will lead to political consequences similar to those of the 1970s. It is about whether the next election should take place in February 1974 – when the majority government gave way to a minority government – or 1979 – when Margaret Thatcher won the majority. I’ve said my article about what I think is the most likely outcome and I don’t want to go over the old ground.
These are not good economic conditions for incumbent governments. I think the biggest consolation for the Conservatives is that both Labor won in 1974 and the Conservatives won in 1979, after they had moved away from the center after their defeats in 1970 and 1974.
Edit the record
The United Kingdom has set a new record for net migration. Historically, we’re experiencing the biggest change in the UK in terms of raw numbers, as this chart from the University of Oxford the migration observatory makes it clear. The proportion of foreign-born people in the total population of the United Kingdom has increased from 9 percent in 2004 to 14 percent by 2021.
A majority of Britons want migration numbers to fall, but a large majority oppose concrete cuts in most areas. actually resulting in higher UK immigration figures. As Sunder Katwala, Director of the think tank British Future, explained in this informative and helpful article:
Only one in ten people think that we have taken in too many refugees from Ukraine. Equally unpopular is the idea of cutting NHS or social care visas: only 12 per cent would restrict health service visas. Only 17 percent support reducing the number of fruit pickers.
Sunder identifies a group he calls the UK’s “honest reductionists”: that is, people who say they want the UK’s overall numbers to fall, but are not opposed to all the policy changes needed to achieve that result. About a quarter of the population falls into this group, he says.
The problem for the Conservative Party here is obvious: this quarter alone is not enough to win the next election, but if that quarter goes to the smaller parties of the right or stays at home, then there is no prospect of the Tory party being able to win it. not even win. And like that of Nuffield College Ben Ansell explained it in his (free!) Substack recently, the conservative electoral coalition relies heavily on voters who are most likely to be among Sunder’s sincere detractors.
There is a direct parallel here with the Conservative party’s internal and external difficulties with tax and spending. Almost every Tory MP says they want lower taxes – but it’s been a while since a Tory chancellor managed to cut public spending significantly beyond the parliamentary party. Indeed, many Conservative MPs like to push for tax cuts and in the next breath demand more spending – on defence, families, skills. (In the Times, Steve Swinford is the latest mini-profiles of many such groups worth reading.)
My general opinion is that we all tend to overestimate our willingness to bear costs. Many of Sunder’s honest reductionists are no different: they would scream the moment their taxes went up, if the prices charged by businesses rose, or if they saw the real costs the UK would have to bear to actually cut taxes. UK net migration figures.
And the current electoral situation of the conservatives highlights this in many ways. Yes, some of the crises facing the government are external in which the Tories were not involved. Some of the problems are entirely self-inflicted, such as the lingering effects of Liz Truss’s short-lived Prime Ministership. Some are a bit of both, such as the prolonged period of public sector pay restraint and the hangover from lockdown. But the point is that while British voters had nothing to do with the Truss government, almost everything that now makes the Conservative party unpopular once helped make it popular.
Much of the Tory internal debate and commentary on immigration speaks as if there is some clever talking point or political lever that Rishi Sunak can pull to make life easier for himself and his party. The reality, I think, is that there will still be a group of voters angry at the Conservatives for not reducing immigration and who would be angry at the consequences if the Conservatives actually did.
Here is a warning for the Labor Party as well. The party’s proposal to rewrite the UK’s immigration rules so that employers cannot pay people on the shortage list 20 per cent below the current rate, I think will be popular with the public. (The fact that this is also recommended by the government’s own migration advisory committee increases its appeal from the Labor Party’s point of view.) But like all such policies, it also has a cost: and I wouldn’t have it if I were a Labor Party. trust that voters will be willing to actually pay the costs when the bill arrives.
Try this now
i saw Plan 75, and honestly I thought it was awful. An anti-euthanasia film with the subtlety and intelligence of a brick, well beyond its natural running time.
In the past year, three thought-provoking films were made about assisted dying and what a good death means: one of them Have a nice morningyou can still catch it in cinemas while All went well and Better than ever are streamable. (My favorite of the trio Better than everand in between Have a nice morning is less than the sum of its parts, the plot involving the main character’s aging father is impeccable.)
What binds these three films together is that while they are, I think it’s fair to say, broadly pro-euthanasia, their depth and humanity means that they elicit truly conflicting emotions and reactions. Life is complicated when you get down to it, and a good movie that portrays that complexity will inevitably convey more messages.
Not so Plan 75, which ironically made me long for death. (Full disclosure: Leslie Felperin disagreed: read her opinion here.)
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