Saturday, May 01, 2010
Why Nick Clegg's thrown in the Immigration towel
Nick Clegg's thrown in the towel over immigration, and I take quite a bit of the blame.
Throwing in the towel is the very last thing on the Lib Dem leader's mind given his poll ratings, so why such a line on immigration: an amnesty for illegals?
Well, it does play well as contrast with the thorough dishonesty of Gordon Brown's complete spin over substance. Brown continues to actively allow uncontrolled mass immigration without any reform other than a pretense. A former colleague of mine at the Borders & Immigration Agency told me last week that the shambles of administration actually had got worse even compared to when I worked there; just as I had predicted it would.
Clegg's policy on immigration owes not a little to a brainstorming session on the topic I had with him some time ago. He really took on board that the immigration system is irredeemable. I told him that the Home Office would never ever get its act together and that there was not the slightest will to do so, either by the Home Office top brass or ministers; that indeed there was every sign it would actually get worse.
I impressed on Nick that given the porosity of our borders (which are effectively those of the EU) and the colossal job of expelling in total literally millions, that there would have to be an 'internal gateway' to deal with the vast number of illegals already here and the millions that are set to come. The frontline of the BIA is never going to be given the staff or the funds to be more than a token force. The issue then shifts to stopping people obtaining benefits and work to which they are not entitled. This, after all, is the main complaint by the majority of British citizens not least legal migrants. Introducing a routine mechanism to check on immigration status at the DWP (re national Insurance numbers) and the Benefits Agency should not be insurmountable.
The Liberal Democrat leader took my analysis all too fully on board. So gloomy is he of anything effective being done that he has adopted a policy of "earned" citizenship an amnesty for illegals by another name. Illegals will "earn" this not just from having illegally lived here (for ten years), but through also having illegally worked. The justification for this measure is that the Home Office can't and won't expel them; not least because there are not records as to who they are or where they live. Well then how is any evidence they might provide to be checked? It would be yet another major avenue for immigration fraud. In any case, if they are working in the 'shadow economy' and saving money through not paying tax, or if they have a National Insurance number and are in regular employment; then why would they want to come forward? And irrespective of how many would come out of the woodwork, how can Nick answer the charge of 'moral jeopardy' with the obvious still stronger inward pull to migration an amnesty would provide?
This is the immigration election. If we didn't know it before, we certainly know it in the wake of Gillian Duffy. The last of the leaders' debates showed that immigration is the threat to Nick Clegg's poll support. Still, post-debate polls suggest it might not cost the Liberal Democrats second place overall.
Could the party even have been first in the polls if Nick Clegg had been in place as leader for the whole of the last Parliament? All right, he would not have had the 'new kid on the block' bounce, but neither would he be vulnerable now to a 'Johnny come lately' rebuff. I had personally several times urged Nick to put in for leader when Charles Kennedy stood down, but though he considered it, his instinct was that it would have been a strike too early.
It was obvious that Nick Clegg was the intelligent, youthful communicator, that being on the political-right of the party, was just the figure to appeal to Tory voters that the Lib Dems needed. Yes: the right of the party. His amnesty proposal stems less from the usual PC-fascist revenge against the ordinary person [f*** 'the workers'] than from the sort of libertarian instinct David Davies shares. But there you go: Davies lost out in the Tory Party leadership contest to David son-of-Blair Cameron.
Menzies Campbell's caretaker slot bit a big chunk out of the time Nick has had for the electorate to get to know who he was. Will they want to get to know him better now they know his policy on immigration?