The official blog of The Social Democratic Party.

The ‘great immigration pause’ – an SDP idea whose time has come

Keir Starmer may appear to align the Labour Party more to social democracy, but on immigration he is as liberal-left as they come.

By: Patrick O'Flynn

With the election of the supposedly ‘moderate’, ‘soft left’ lawyer Sir Keir Starmer as Labour leader, most observers would agree that it has become harder to claim the mantle of social democracy from the Labour Party.

Now that the extremist Corbyn regime is history, those Labour MPs who see themselves as social democrats have a much better alibi for taking the easy path and staying put.

However the direction of Labour policy under Starmer already demonstrates that genuine social democracy is not going to prosper in his regime. It is quite clear that the now-familiar metropolitan, liberal-left perspective that unites Blairites and Corbynites will remain completely dominant.

The Blue Labour caucus, which emphasises social solidarity within the nation state, seems even more forlorn now than under Corbyn, who at least had a record of opposing EU power grabs because of his dedication to the notion of achieving ‘socialism in one country’.

The Starmer leadership has seen Labour declare that the UK should continue to be governed by European Union regulations and laws into 2021 and beyond, with the party now calling for transition to carry on indefinitely, until a ‘deal’ is reached with Brussels on our future relationship.

More tellingly, Starmer has led his MPs in a clear direction on immigration. Despite the coronavirus slump being projected to leave one in three British 18- to 24-year-olds unemployed by the autumn, Labour is crossing swords with Priti Patel in a bid to preserve free movement into the UK jobs market from all EU countries.

At the same time, the party has said nothing about the scandalous spectacle of dinghies crossing the English Channel crammed with young men from Africa and Asia and being escorted into port by the UK Border Force.

Neither has it criticised the Government for overseeing another year of net immigration above a quarter of a million – despite all the pressures that places on social cohesion, housing and public services.

During his campaign for the Labour leadership, Starmer came out with a series of pledges on immigration, each designed to please the large majority of party activists who wish to dismantle controls. As well as supporting continued free movement, he also wishes to close immigration removal centres such as Yarl’s Wood and outlaw indefinite detention of failed asylum-seekers.

There is every sign that, under Starmer, Labour will move further in the direction of explicitly supporting the ideology of ‘global citizenship’, thereby effectively repudiating the idea of the nation state and the notion that citizens might have higher bonds of loyalty and mutual obligation to each other than outsiders.

This is a betrayal of the values and interests of working class communities across Britain and, I would argue, of the outlook of the celebrated 1945 Attlee administration which was galvanised by the idea of a national family, with the new National Health Service being funded by a system of National Insurance.

There is a baton here to be picked up by the Social Democratic Party. We must never be intimidated into accepting the false suggestion that broad affinity to the nation state and a sense of higher obligation to compatriots are regressive ideas or that wishing to control international immigration is necessarily ‘right wing’.

In fact, with Boris Johnson’s Tories increasingly exposed as paying mere lip-service to the idea of lower immigration, we should be toughening up our policies.

As vacancies plummet and unemployment among Britons soars, as our housing stock is increasingly exposed as inadequate for the size of population and as coronavirus shows how high density population can be an acute public health risk, it is time to be bolder.

A significant pause to this era of mass immigration should be our goal: to allow social cohesion to recover; to facilitate better integration into core British values within some poorly integrated minority communities and to protect the job prospects, wage levels, housing conditions and access to public services enjoyed by working class people in general.

For the SDP to argue for a ‘great immigration pause’ would show that we are not prepared to allow such common sense territory to be monopolised by the Right’s great showman populist Nigel Farage.

I am not, of course, arguing for a halt to all immigration. In an open-minded country like Britain there will always be a place for those from overseas whose skills can add value to our economy and society.

Nevertheless, I think very low net inward migration should be a clear goal for the SDP now. Low gross immigration should be another: so communities can have a breather from 20 years of breakneck change – and so we can start to get to know each other once more, as neighbours and fellow citizens.

We must reclaim the idea of strong immigration control as an enlightened social force. The modern liberal-left, under Starmer, yearns for a future of ‘no borders’. That is not what voters in the former Red Wall seats who turned Tory in December believe in. If and when the Tories let them down, we should be there to pick them up.

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All Comments (15)

  • A good read. Ignore the current non-EU net migration figures; they are a work of fiction. According to the net migration rate we should have had 282,000 net migrants last year. According to the Annual Population Survey/Labour Force Survey, the non-EU born population grew by 123,000 from 5,743,000 to 5,866,000. One of these statistic is wrong and it’s not the APS/LPS. The Home Office’s records on non-EU visas entries and exits also shows a significantly lower net rate but is not used to calculate net migration; only the International Passenger Survey is used and it’s totally unreliable. Let’s never forget, the previous Labour government increased net migration greatly without any democratic consent to do so as the policy change was not stated. Neither were we told or asked. When people say net migration needs to be greatly reduced, they are correct to do so and have need to offer an explanation other than for democratic reasons

  • I completely agree. I am not anti immigration, having decended from Huguenot immigrants myself, but I am against any open door policy.

    • Thank you, Richard. much welcomed. I live near Canterbury; a city built on huguenot ancestry. Th inflow of immigrants, which is essential, and outflow of emigrants, the reason why it’s essential, must be in balance. A loose aim of Zero net migration give or take several 10,000’s a year must become the SDP policy.

  • I have enormous sympathy with the SDP’s nuanced position on immigration, and the way the party brings reason and moderation to the debate. And I am in sympathy with its view of nationhood in the sense of “somewheres versus anywheres”.

    Nevertheless, there are parts of this piece that make me feel a bit uncomfortable. For example, Patrick seems to imply that he is in favour of *indefinite* detention of failed asylum seekers, which is surely not moral? Better to get through the process effectively and efficiently as possible.

    Second, I feel a bit dubious about places like Yarls Wood. I visited an immigration detention centre in Cambridgeshire once, and it did not seem a humane way of treating people who may have fled persecution and torture. I seem to recall also that Yarls Wood had a terrible reputation for its long term detention of women and children.

    Surely the nuance in the SDP allows for both its “somewheres not anywheres” philosophy; its approach to economic migration that defends the interest of the nation (as well as the interests of the migrants themselves and their families); and yet at the same time has a compassionate approach to those claiming asylum that does not involve detaining them indefinitely in places like Yarls Wood?

  • Yes. It makes sense that Britain allows people in the ten of thousands to come if they have guaranteed work and it helps if they speak English as it’s our language and they will need it to assimilate into our communities easily. But what sense does it make to keep allowing people into the country when we don’t have enough homes? We actually need to solve the housing crisis first and that’s a clear reason on why we need to lower the immigration numbers in the first place.

    I agree that the SDP does need to toughen up it’s policies and needs to be both clear and firm on where it stands on immigration. You don’t want to look as weak as Labour or the Tories. Immigration is still a big issue that still plays on the average voter’s mind and many are looking for a party who will “stick to their word” and carry out those policies. Theresa May looked professional as Home Secretary, but what did she actually do?

    Finally, I think the SDP also needs to talk about the points system, work visas, migrant crime and the deportations of migrant criminals. I understand they are “heavy issues” that I’m sure many people would rather avoid, but they are issues I see discussed on social media a lot and I think the SDP could do with addressing those things.

  • We need imigration, the ebb and flow of migration is on the whole beneficial to a nation, but our unfettered open door policy encouraged by Sir Keirs, new Labour can only cause more long term issues for workers and households. How can we ever hear common sense from our Politicians when it comes to imigration as any mention of control is imediately condemmed as racism, by the liberal left?

  • I agree entirely. Migration at a modest scale is natural and invigorating but rapid mass immigration has been socially disruptive and economically neutral at best. Because we were already well below self-sufficiency, the artificial increase in our number of some 6m people has also increased our heavy reliance on imported food, energy and raw materials, and thus our vulnerability to any disruption in their supply.
    We are 67m people in a world of 7.7bn. Our crowded little country simply cannot accommodate the many, many millions more who would like to live here, whatever the reasons. Yes, we should exercise compassion for those in less fortunate countries but by helping them to flourish in situ, not by weakening ourselves.

  • You need to be careful about who is counted as an immigrant-students, wives joining their husbands established here, the seasonal worker sending his remittance back to his impoverished family? The allready well off who can bring his/her ‘talents’ to this country-and away from their own nation?That said it is a clear argument and stance to really fulfil the ‘Let’s get Brexit done’ mantra.

  • most immigrants I have encountered over the Years have contributed enormously We cannot continue with the levels that happened during the Blair/Brown Labour era, now We are out of the EU We can decide who enters now not someone over in Europe who no-one has heard of, Labour are still obsessed with immigration 10 Years out of Office they still have not learned the error of their Ways

  • “A great immigration pause” is an idea that could resonate with a large swathe of the electorate on both the left and right, but the party would have to flesh out a number of grey areas such as,
    – How would the party stop immigration creeping up as special interest groups claim they need foreign labour be they skilled, unskilled or academic.
    – How would the party would commit to promising a generational halt to mass immigration when the electorate might vote parties into power that had differing views on this matter to the SDP during the 20-30 year suspension period?
    – Would pausing immigration mean starting from scratch and returning all illegal immigrants now in this country or would they be all given permission to stay and the slate started from when the SDP is elected to govern?
    – How would the party deal with the expected criticisms from pro-immigration parties and others who would label this as a racist, far right idea?

    Havig said the above I still believe it a note worthy idea and perhaps a manifesto pledge.

  • Yes I would vote for a TOTAL halt on immigration for at least 20 years. We must also start turning the dinghies around as they do in Australia & deport all failed asylum seekers immediately, no ifs or buts. There must also be a concerted effort to search out & deport illegals.

Family, Community, Nation.