The immigration nation

Immigration is the word on most people’s lips, at least in politics.

Immigration is the word on most people’s lips, at least in politics. Indeed, it is one of the most salient issues in the run up to #GE2015. Throughout much of 2014, immigration was the most important issue facing Britain, and it is still an issue important to a third of the public according to a poll by Ipsos MORI. So what has been the driving force behind the issue, what are the solutions and will this be the debate that decides who gets the keys to Number 10 in May?

One explanation is the rise and rise of UKIP, and the popularity of their leader Nigel Farage. The party’s stance on immigration is very clear and in a large part why the party has seen a respectable share of the polling thus far. In contrast, the mainstream parties, in particular the Conservatives, have been struggling on immigration. With the Tories’ vision of reducing immigration down to tens of thousands still an ambition, David Cameron has had to acknowledge that this target has been missed and is being haunted by his promise at the last election. “If we don’t deliver our side of the bargain, vote us out in five years’ time,” something Ed Miliband used to his advantage during this week’s PMQs. But, the more the mainstream parties talk about immigration, the less UKIP has to gain.

Farage has said the current immigration system was “unsustainable, unfair and unethical” and his party has developed a policy based around an Australian-style points-based system. While this is hailed as an example, it still is not as clear cut as it may seem. A closer examination in Australia reveals 27.7 per cent of Australians were born abroad, compared with 13 per cent of UK residents. Also, unlike many other countries, we attract and import people but we also export Brits too. The UK ranks eighth highest globally for the number of emigrants, a remarkable figure for a country the size of ours.

UKIP themselves are not immune from confusion when it comes to immigration, and this week Farage was forced to make a U-turn, dropping the party’s plan to cap immigration at 50,000 arrivals a year. Only last Friday, Stephen Woolfe, UKIP’s immigration spokesperson reiterated the party’s intention to cap net immigration at 50,000. However, Farage favours ‘flexibility’ and seems to be learning from Cameron’s mistake.

The Conservatives’ attempts to prize voters away from UKIP have come under scrutiny. The Home Secretary, Theresa May’s efforts to expel international students after graduation were heavily criticised by universities, business leaders and fellow cabinet members. Despite this, she is the longest serving Home Secretary in half a century. Whether this is due to her bold attitude and determination or more a case of good luck with no major events during her tenure is a matter for debate, but May’s stance on immigration appeals to the Tory right and warrants admiration from the Prime Minister. The question is will it be enough to stave off the threat from UKIP, and will her record as Home Secretary be enough to see her challenge for the leadership should things not go to plan in May?

Immigration – in a way it can be considered the marmite of politics – you’re either in favour or you’re not. It’s a given that it will inform a proportion of the electorate’s decision in terms of their vote come 7th May, but there is a long way to go in the election fight, and you can’t help but think it may come down to one single thing – ‘the economy, stupid’.