Thursday, April 18, 2024
HomeKathy GyngellDon't mention the i-word

Don’t mention the i-word


ALL ten Tory leader candidates have now launched their leadership campaigns. On Brexit the doublespeak continued. Can anyone discern which of the so-called ‘hard’ Brexit candidates, if any, is ditching the WA or whether any are genuinely committed to no deal?

As to any coherent, let alone radical conservative, agendas – forget it. The once social conservative Dominic Raab decided to go virtue-signalling green last week in a bid to increase his support. Then came his earth-shattering social policy promise – no, not on marriage, but ultrasound scans at 36 weeks for mothers-to-be.

Very nice too, but hardly at the top of the public’s list of concerns.

Esther McVey made her contribution to conservatism by way of a Corbyn-lite promise to increase public sector pay. 

Elsewhere in this schizophrenic state spending and tax-cutting party BoJo and Gove took off with their respective tax giveaways: Gove committing to scrap VAT and Johnson promising to raise the threshold for higher rate tax without any balancing promises on reducing the size of the state.

If they got bottom marks for consistency and vision (no telling us our island nation’s story and its present  moment in history and so its huge political, social and economic challenges now and ahead) they really got top marks for avoiding the real issues involved. Not least the i-word one. I don’t pretend to have digested every detail of the various leadership launches of this ‘conceit’ of contenders, but by my count between them the word immigration was mentioned once. Just once.

And Boris might as well not have bothered. Yesterday afternoon he dextrously managed to include it only to dismiss its import as fast as he introduced it. Brexit, he told us, ‘wasn’t just about immigration though people were entirely reasonable in wanting national control.’ That was it.

I guess we should be grateful for small mercies. Being considered ‘reasonable’ has to be an improvement on ‘fruitcakes and loonies’. But as to how we are going to get that national control and whether, if we get it, we’ll then be told not worry about immigration, we have to blindly trust in Boris and his flamboyant assurances that our greatest days lie ahead.

From another podium somewhere else in London, Sajid Javid was focusing on his ‘back story’, making no reference at all to the global millions who seem only too keen to replicate his family’s pattern. So busy was he stressing his social justice credentials that he entirely forgot to flesh out the ‘flexible, sensible attitude to immigration’ that he promised earlier in the week. What the ‘insensible attitude’ to immigration is, we were left none the wiser. 

So there we have it – not just one but ten potential leaders who either think immigration is not a problem or don’t dare mention it. It is, as Sir Andrew Green, founding Chairman of Migration Watch, wrote in Conservative Home on Tuesday, astonishing.

Or is it? Aren’t the Tories just like the BBC – quite happy to delude themselves and us that immigration is not a worry, just a matter of overcoming irrational anxiety?. Like Roger Boyes in the Times, do they secretly think we should accept, however crowded we get, that ‘migrants will come whether like it or not’? If so, they still need to set out their plans for schools, hospital, transport – general public services expansion from waste collection to registering births and deaths and booking the crematorium – needed to absorb the fast-growing population.

The truth is, as Sir Andrew writes, that the country has reached a crossroads on immigration, and so has clearly has the Conservative Party. It will bring the Tories to the parting of the ways with the people unless they have something serious to say about it and face the facts for once.

These are that annual net migration into the UK has averaged nearly 300,000 over the past five years – that is roughly the population of Newcastle. Yet until Labour came to power in 1997, Sir Andrew reminds us, net migration was never more than 50,000 a year and was sometimes negative. Nine years of Conservative government and they have failed to get a grip on it.

Today the UK’s official population is just under 67million, up 9million since 2001 and 5million since 2009.

You would have to be wilfully blind not to acknowledge that the character and nature of our society is ‘already being changed without the consent of the majority of our population, three-quarters of whom support the reduction of net migration levels to the tens of thousands’.

The dangers to the fabric of our society are already there to see. Already 71 per cent of Britons believe that immigration has made communities more divided, rising to 78 per cent in areas that have experienced large-scale immigration in recent years. The problem is one of scale and speed, not of individual migrants. David Goodhart has pointed out that too many people coming too quickly into a society makes it difficult to retain a sense of cohesion and stability and we risk becoming an increasingly segregated country.

As we have argued elsewhere in TCW, there is no persuasive evidence for the UK that immigration has increased GDP per head. On the contrary, it has been roughly flat for the last ten years despite massive levels of immigration.

But so far there is no Conservative leadership candidate who appears to have the courage or determination to take his or her head out of the sand on this fundamentally important issue for the country.

If they continue to skate over it and fail to heed the public’s repeated calls to reduce immigration, they will indeed be signing their party’s death warrant.

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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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