Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The Labour government has been working hard to ensure that immigration policy, one of the staple undercurrents of a British election campaign, will not be an opposition trump card in this election. Two of the BNP’s central demands – to deport all illegal immigrants and all non-British criminals – have already been met by government policy. How much further can New Labour move to the right without being mistaken for the BNP?
The main space left for manoeuvre between the various parties is the number of skilled non-EU immigrants to be allowed to enter the UK under the points-based system. The BNP wants none; the Tories want a cap on the number who qualify. The Tories’ recognition that immigrants are vital to a competitive economy even in a recession represents a step forward from the attempted zero migration of the Thatcher years. It is time to develop an immigration policy that is honest about the benefits of immigration rather than the blow hot, blow cold response to right-wing pressure that we are accustomed to seeing from this government.
Most mainstream debate on immigration focuses on a ‘managed’ migration policy, with those on the left emphasising fairness and justice while the government’s emphasis falls on the ‘robustness’ and ‘integrity’ of the system. But we need to go further than that. We need to recognise that for as long as we have problems without borders – inequality, poverty and exploitation – people will not and cannot respect those borders. Migrants’ remittances, two to three times the size of international aid, play a significant role in reducing global inequality, and also keep the wheels of the British economy oiled.
If the borders were to be opened, it is a widely held belief that Britain would be inundated. However, this is not borne out by the trends. In general, migration follows jobs. With the recession, there has been a tailing off in numbers of those applying to come here. Open borders within Europe with a population of half a billion have not led to Britain being inundated, although much has been made of the Polish influx and some local difficulties with overstretched services. This has been due mainly to a lack of planning. The overall ease with which migrants have been accommodated in the UK is evidence of the need for workers.
Given the economic benefits to the country in terms of stimulating growth, adding to the pension and welfare funds of an ageing population, contributing more in taxes than taking out in benefits and not costing the UK in training, skilled migrants have no need to produce further arguments to justify their presence here. However, what I consider to be the clincher in this debate has not had the public airing that it deserves. Very little work, if any, has been done to quantify the economic gains made by Britain from trade, aid and other activities in the developing world that leads to the displacement of people from their traditional livelihoods and lands, set against the costs incurred by the government by the arrival of refugees and economic migrants here.
Recent reports on the ‘land-grab’ that is taking place in Africa by the international community, including Britain, in order to fulfil domestic demand for food and biofuels has led to a loss of land and livelihood for millions – some of whom, no doubt, will be knocking on our doors tomorrow. Not to trace a line between their hunger and our satiety is downright immoral.
We need to draw up a balance sheet that measures the number of jobs generated here and taxes paid by transnational companies to the treasury (even with their clever tax avoidance schemes) against the immigrants who turn up here. Given the complicated structure of transnational companies, unpicking the economic trail will be a resource-intensive job. That is why we need an equivalent of the Stern review on climate change to carry out this work. Such a review should look specifically at the impact of open borders as every other point on the spectrum of a managed immigration policy has been tried.
We should also consider a number of intermediate steps: an unconditional amnesty/regularisation for all undocumented migrants; the right to work for asylum seekers; and to make the immigration system compatible with the government’s international human rights commitments.
The movement of peoples is an irresistible fact of globalisation. Immigration controls do not work. As Teresa Hayter, writer and activist puts it ‘Controls are like a dam; when one hole is blocked, another appears somewhere else.’ The sooner we wake up to this fact and plan rationally for it, the better.
Rahila Gupta is a journalist and writer on immigration issues
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Labour’s NEC has started to empower party members – but we still have a mountain to climb
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament