With over 700 letters sent within the first couple of days to candidates standing for Parliament, Our Vote website has given campaigners and supporters a chance to get the message across that a different and honest approach to immigration is needed if we are to remain a tolerant and open society.
The political campaigns and immigration so far…
It is clear that people still want to talk about the issue. Opinion polls show that it remains very high up in the list of concerns about the state of Britain today, usually just behind the economy and the condition of the NHS. But there is a strong sense that people are no longer so quick to assume that migrants can be scornfully described as ‘benefit tourists’ who want to grab things which they are not entitled to receive. It is early days and the evidence is still pretty patchy, mainly coming from analysis of the campaign’s two most significant engagements: the two television interrogations of the leading contenders for the prime minister by Jeremy Paxman and the ‘leaders’ debate’ of last week.
The latter event was more revealing about the state of the opinion of ‘ordinary people’ on immigration. A neutral question on the issue from a member of the audience invited the party leaders to set out their stalls, and gave Messrs Cameron and Miliband the opportunity to reiterate the well-known positions of their parties, to whit that immigration needed to be controlled principally by withholding social security benefits from people who had not resided for the requisite period of time.
But the much-reported flashpoint took place around the efforts of one party leader to blame immigration from a large range of issues, from the numbers of HIV-positive patients being treated on the NHS through congestion in our city spaces. The audience erupted into spontaneous applause when the leaders of other parties emphatically rubbished these arguments and insisted that the record of immigration to the UK was positive.
This may be a straw in the wind as far as evidence about the state of the debate is concerned, but it is nevertheless helpful as an indication as to what British voters really are thinking about immigration. Our view is that a larger proportion are rejecting simplistic and negative takes on the issue and are more prepared to concede that it is a part of a ‘new normal’, with higher levels of people movement to be expected as economies return to growth.
Our Vote – Standing together for a fair approach to immigration
Our Vote 2015 is determined to catch this wind and work with it to bring fresh ideas and perspectives to a public discussion about immigration which for too long has been fuelled by misreporting in the media and the failure of leading politicians to be bold enough to state the facts.
The outcome of such a poorly-informed public discussion has been a set of policies and laws –embodied in the Immigration Act 2014 – which have worked to create a ‘hostile environment’ for people newly arriving in the UK. Over the course of the past year plans have been put in place which will make it more difficult for migrants to get accommodation in the private rented sector, access NHS GP services, and even open bank accounts for themselves or their businesses.
But these measures are being challenged by increasingly vocal campaigns in defence of the rights of migrants. A huge lobby is building up in constituencies across the country around the issue of family migration with effects of the rules much more widespread during the years of the coalition government. The demand is for a repeal of the rules which require sponsors in the UK to have income levels which can be beyond the reach of the average wage earner in many parts of the country.
There is also a robust campaign against the routine detention of people suspected of overstaying which has become a mainstay of enforcement policy. The UK stands alone in Europe as a country which allows the indefinite detention of asylum seekers, and campaigns like Time4aTimeLimit are making real headway in their efforts to end this practice.
The Migrants Manifesto which has been put together by Our Vote sets out all the issues which we think ought to be at the heart of the immigration debate during this election period.
It argues that things have gone too far with these efforts to make the UK an ever more hostile place for newcomers. It argues that they should be regarded as partners in the task of building a better and fairer Britain, rather than a dire threat to all the things we think are important about our society.
To write to your future MP, please visit the Migrants’ Rights Network website, where this article was originally published.