Dr Alex Balch is a Lecturer in International Politics and European Integration in the University of Liverpool’s Department of Politics
“In the last few weeks leaders from all the major parties have made high-profile statements about immigration policy.
“In related developments Home Secretary Theresa May conceded the experiment to create a more independent ‘arms-length’ Border ‘Agency’ had failed announcing that the organisation would be ‘scrapped’, split in two and returned to the direct control of the Home Office.
Little clear blue water
“One significant problem is that there now seems to be little ‘clear blue water’ between the main parties. Each of the speeches attempted to set out a unique policy programme, but they rather agreed with each other on two basic points: Firstly that we need radical reform in order to be ‘tougher’ on those that ‘abuse’ the system, and secondly the previous, or current, government was, or is, completely incapable of ‘getting a grip’ on the problem.
“Most people recognise the political calculations behind these latest political outbursts. Mainstream politicians are fearful that other political parties -currently UKIP – will do a better job of exploiting voters’ anxieties over the topic, particularly in difficult economic times.
“What is less clear is why, if there is such a consensus, the problem keeps coming back to haunt governments and has finished off many a Home Secretary into the bargain. No matter how hard politicians attempt to hit upon the ultimate ‘harsh but fair’ solution a-la-Solomon they tend to end up looking more like Canute with the ‘immigration problem’ playing the role of the metaphorical tide that just keeps coming.
“The obvious explanation is that the rhetoric on the state’s capacity to control the dynamic nature of human mobility is completely overblown. We are living in an era of mass international travel – over 90 million journeys in and out of the UK every year – where economic activity is increasingly global, and in a world where there are growing numbers of refugees due to wars and environmental disasters.
Inequality and discrimination
“Bureaucratic policies that count, categorize, and castigate individuals on the basis of their future intentions, which are often unknown, are bound to fail in the face of such complexity.
“But the real reason why this issue will continue to attract and repel politicians of all hues is that immigration poses deep dilemmas over how we should treat newcomers; are they potential members of the community or unwanted guests. The other key issue is the extent to which we should tolerate policies that increase inequality and discrimination.
“The answers probably depend on our confidence in the future, and tell us something about the ‘liberal’ nature of the state itself.”
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