Immigration is the one policy area in politics where you can so easily be branded as either a racist or a stark-raving libertarian.
Admittedly, it’s not a nice topic to discuss but migration plays a significant role in the welfare of a country’s economy and society. It will also play a vital role in May’s General Election as each political party tries to win the immigration debate and attract voters.
Since 2010 when Ed Miliband became leader, Labour have continuously said that they “got it wrong” on immigration when they were in government. Uncontrolled immigration from new European Union member states led to UK net migration being consistently above 200,000 per year from 2003 to 2009.
The rise of UKIP has inevitably stirred up the issue. Fundamentally, they are opposed to the free movement of people, a founding principle of the EU.
Their basic argument matches the opening line of a Cheryl Cole song: “Too much of anything can make you sick, even the good can be a curse”.
Listening to UKIP activists might make you think otherwise, but their official party line is that they support immigration but believe that the UK government must have control over the quantity and quality of its immigrants.
They argue that immigration puts strain on vital public services like healthcare, social housing, school places and transport networks. Immigration can also drive down wages and cause social friction because of apparent differences. UKIP do, however, recognise – albeit less audibly – that immigration can be good for the economy with people coming here to set up businesses and fill labour shortages in certain industries. They seem to be very much in tune with public opinion on this.
Liberal-minded parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the Greens argue that immigration is not only vital to a prosperous economy, but it enriches our culture and makes Britain better than the rest.
For the Conservatives, immigration policy should, in theory, end their hopes of being in government after May. Why? Because back in the 2010 general election campaign, in a leaflet called ‘If We Don’t Deliver, Kick Us Out’ they said: “We will reduce net immigration to tens of thousands a year.”
Today, the net migration figure for 2014 was announced as 298,000. A record high. So, where does that leave the Tories? Where does that leave your vote?