Tim Finch is chief policy adviser on migration at the Institute for Public Policy Research. Here, in the form of an open strategy memo, he proposes how the Conservative Party should approach the issue of migration.
To: George Osborne, Election Strategy Team
Subject: A Progressive Conservative Policy on Migration
Migration may be politically toxic, but it is economically essential. The polls show clearly and consistently that the public is hostile to immigration. So it is clearly not sensible to put a progressive migration policy front and centre of a bid for power. But every reputable economist will tell you that a reasonably open and flexible approach to migratory movements has helped drive the UK economy in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
Migration is a complex global phenomenon that requires a sophisticated policy response. Too often the UK debate around migration has been simplistic and divisive, with groups positioning themselves as ‘pro’ or ‘anti’, and having synthetic, but corrosive, slanging matches. The UK will need migrants in the future, and anyway cannot isolate itself from global movements of people. In this context, we need a more rational, more consensual debate on migration to produce sensible, effective and humane policies.
Changing the terms of the migration debate provides an opportunity for the Conservatives. Politically it would smart for the Tories to take a position on immigration that shows the mainstream media and swing voters that any nagging doubt they may still have about the Conservatives being the ‘Nasty Party’ is outdated. People don’t tend to vote for a checklist of policies, it’s more about feeling or image. But totemic policy stances – and a new approach to migration would be such a stance - contribute hugely to the overall impression voters have of a party.