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
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank