Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

All change

In the four years since Gordon Brown met Gillian Duffy the Conservatives have introduced an ‘immigration cap’ and our own party seems at times to have made a speech every few months apologising for immigration under ‘the last Labour government’ (a phrase which now only precedes criticism whoever utters it). But intense discussion of the subject risks raising expectations about what can be done (witness the failure of the cap on its own terms) or fiddling around the edges with things that should just be done anyway, such as Labour’s policies of supporting people to learn English and enforcing the minimum wage properly. Indeed, Tory modernisers’ thinktank Bright Blue’s recent ‘manifesto’ (discussed in this magazine by Patrick Diamond on page 9) features a chapter on the subject by the Adam Smith Institute’s Sam Bowman, who is unimpressed with the Conservatives’ cap. He advocates ‘micropolicies’ which ‘reduce the harm caused by the immigration cap’, and calls the inclusion of student visas in the limit ‘senseless’. While such small moves may still risk the wrath of the public as being seen to do something without doing much substantial at all, Bowman’s call for a ‘return to a cap-free points-based system, with appropriate reforms to make immigration by high-skilled workers and students as easy as possible’ is surely correct.

Beyond the immediate question of ‘who comes in’, thinktanks are setting about mapping the implications of newly diverse Britain. Demos has set up an ‘Integration Hub’ with the express aim of ‘Closing the gap between the seminar room and the wider public debate on integration.’ The area remains sensitive: the tank’s former director David Goodhart recently provoked fury among some with his book The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Postwar Immigration, which was excoriated on the pages of this publication by Diane Abbott. The hub’s ‘one-stop’ shop will later this summer release interactive data on residence, employment, education, health and attitudes of ethnic minority groups living in Britain, and Demos recently approached the matter from the more explicitly party political angle with an article in its new longform essay journal Demos Quarterly. In it, former equality and human rights commission chair Trevor Phillips and academic Richard Webber warned that the Tories may not always do badly among ethnic minority voters, especially as members of different groups move to more ethnically mixed areas and reinforcing ‘cluster’ effects weaken. They identify British Indian voters as the most likely ‘Labour deserters’, a group that the Conservative party has already identified for targeting. Phillips and Webber further pick out the impact of such changes in regard to seats of particular interest to Labour. Enfield North and Dewsbury should, for example, be more vulnerable to Labour with lower numbers of British Indians, while ‘three-way hyper-marginal’ Hampstead and Kilburn is singled out as a seat where differential turnout among groups could be decisive.

Also offering a mix of data and political analysis for politicians’ consumption is right-leaning thinktank Policy Exchange, which followed on Demos’ heels to release A Portrait of Modern Britain, a study headlining with its projected doubling of the ethnic minority population by the middle of the century. Facts and figures, about the geographical location, working patterns and voting habits of Britain’s ethnic groups, abound. The tank found that ‘regardless of social class or association with Conservative positions on specific issues, ethnic minorities are still more likely to vote Labour … even for recent arrivals, implying the cause is not to be found in people’s historic experience of the Labour party or Labour governments’. It too concludes Labour remains strong in ethnic minority groups but notes that British Indians are four times as likely to vote Conservative than black Africans.

Policy Exchange also found the sense of ‘being British’ to be more important to ethnic minority groups than to white Britons – perhaps unsurprising, with Britishness more of a civic identity largely blind to assumptions about ethnicity. At a time when the idea and purpose of Britain is coming under increasing pressure, this feeling may eventually simply get subsumed into burgeoning English, Scottish and Welsh identities – or could the country, increasingly diverse in its make-up, in turn influence a renewed enthusiasm for a Britishness that can be shared by all?

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Adam Harrison

is a councillor in the London borough of Camden

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