The Case for Managed Migration

In the second of two articles debating immigration, Jake Davies, OULC member, argues against freedom of movement and makes the case for restricted migration.

A good place to start this piece is to stress the specifically modern context in which I am advocating for controlled immigration. This is not an assessment of the UK’s intake of Huguenots in the eighteenth century nor migrants from across the Commonwealth following World War 2 (for the record I regard both these developments positively), but a specific discussion about the best response to inward migration to the UK since the late 1990s, the pace of which is without precedent in the modern era with 2015 boasting a record level of net migration: 332 000 more people entered than left the country.[1]

The majority of the British public, and I side with them in doing so, view immigration in recent years differently to historical influxes, as testified by migration’s unprecedented endurance near the top of most voters’ list of political priorities.[2] Moreover, the growth in people concerned about immigration has closely tracked actual increases in migrant numbers, indicating the organic nature of such concerns rather than the cynical view that they have been deliberately manufactured by politicians and anti-immigration parties like UKIP to avert attention from other problems.

The important question of course, is whether current concerns about migration and the related desire to manage it properly are in any way justifiable? I believe so, while also rejecting the common claim that often accompanies calls for controlled immigration that high levels of migration drives down wages. While there is a case that in some flexible and historically non-unionised economic sectors, such as the construction industry, high influxes of cheap foreign labour can depress wages, there is little evidence to back up this argument across the economy as a whole because migrants invariably generate demand for new labour, thereby keeping wages steady. For this reason, I side with Labour’s overall assessment of migration as a positive economic, and indeed, social phenomenon. Where I disagree, however, is in translating this positive attitude towards migration into support for unlimited freedom of movement in which individuals’ ability to freely cross national borders is seen as a fundamental, unconditional right.

Proponents of unlimited immigration or open borders often stress how border controls emerged only as recently as the late nineteenth/ early twentieth century, and therefore, regard them as modern impositions on individual liberty that should be removed. Aside from the fact no-one opposes democracy or the welfare state on the grounds that they did not exist in practice before the twentieth century, this argument is flawed insofar as it misses the unprecedented change in our country and indeed, much of the world in the meantime. The twentieth century witnessed the growth of complex, interconnected societies that confer universal benefits and aid to the most needy within countries’ borders in return for a higher level of obligation from citizens. In the UK it brought old-age pensions, free comprehensive education, and the NHS, to name but a few developments.

The relevance of societal change to the debate over migration is that in raising the value of citizenship to a significantly higher level than ever before, and at the same time as global mobility has considerably increased, modern nations like the UK have rendered border controls more likely. As citizenship has become more attractive to the outside world, it is unsurprising that governments have taken greater measures to ensure it is not abused, especially given the fact the value of this citizenship relies on everyone taking greater social responsibility. To put it another way, modern citizenship costs a lot; in a situation where immigration is uncontrolled, native citizens interpret this as granting citizenship to outsiders for free. This I believe is one of the most powerful explanations behind the sizeable majority of Britons (including over half of ethnic minorities) who oppose the mass migration of recent times, namely because they fear the system is out of control and people are gaining access to the benefits of British citizenship without being fully integrated into society in return.[3][4]

Although one may respond that on average migrants contribute more to the Treasury than they receive in benefits, this misses how it is the principle of unlimited generosity which rankles. For migrants to be truly integrated into society, and crucially for natives to accept them, citizenship must be earned. David Goodhart offers a sensible approach to managing migration and reducing resentment about people abusing British citizenship, namely devising a system that properly distinguishes between permanent and temporary citizens.[5]

Temporary citizens, he argues, should enjoy more limited social and political rights – corresponding to their own transactional arrangements with the UK – allowing the government to concentrate more rights, benefits and resources for integration on those who are fully committing to the country, as well as helping people in greatest need such as asylum seekers.

Finally, I would like to respond to the claim that in a world where capital and finance increasingly move freely across national borders, any measure to reduce labour’s overall freedom of movement will play into the former’s hands. I agree with this sentiment and for that reason, regard unreconstructed Thatcherites like Nigel Farage with great suspicion, insofar as he has spent his political career demanding stricter controls on migration while wanting capital to roam freely. However, I and many other advocates of controlled immigration also favour policies that would rein in capital, from the promotion of regional investment banks that can only fund projects within a specific area to more robust international efforts to tackle predator multinationals and close down tax havens.

To sum up, my support for managed migration comes within the context of complex modern societies and welfare states that require outsiders to earn their citizenship, and is accompanied by measures to restrain the movement of capital so as not to disadvantage labour.





[5] D. Goodhart, The Road To Somewhere (2017) p. 126

The Joys of Immigration

In the first of two articles debating immigration, Kieran Marray, OULC member, defends high levels of immigration into the UK and explains why he believes Labour should be encouraging it.

I have to start with a confession: I am a massive fan of immigration. Maybe it’s because I likely wouldn’t be sitting here and writing this article without it. I am a second generation immigrant. My dad was born in County Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland and moved to Britain when he was young, and one of my other biological grandparents was also Irish. Hopefully, by the time of publication, I will be an Irish citizen as well as a British one (not just because of Brexit, I promise). I also live in Corby, a town in Northamptonshire which exists purely due to migration. The vast majority of the town was built to house Scottish and Irish steelworkers (like my grandad) brought in to feed the roaring blast furnaces and tend the rivers of molten iron and steel that used to dominate its centre, and it now provides a home to thousands of workers from central and eastern Europe too.

My love of immigration, and passionate belief that the Labour party should support it and not restrict it, is not, however, due to this obvious bias. It is due to the fact that it provides great benefits to the majority in our society.

One of the main benefits of immigration is of course cultural. The infusion of people of different backgrounds and experiences enriches our society in ways that make the lives of all better. One only has to look at the rich and vibrant culture in high-immigration cities like London to see this. However, as going into this would require at least another article, I am going to focus on the economic benefits of large scale immigration instead.

These benefits are threefold. Greater numbers of people are likely to bring with them a greater demand for goods and services. People need food, clothes and so on, which require shops to sell them and people to help provide them. This is especially true for immigrants who are not massively rich, as the rich spend a lower proportion of their income than everyone else. This demand generates jobs for those who don’t have them, and gives more work to those who desperately need it. Greater levels of immigration are also likely to increase the number of skilled immigrants who come to the UK. In the short term, this means that our children are likely to be educated by better teachers, and the sick treated by better doctors. In the long term, this means that our country has the skills to teach people born here to be those better teachers and doctors themselves. Finally, when taken together, these both boost total tax revenue. More people mean more people buying goods, and so more people paying taxes. This gives the government more money to pay for the investment in schools, hospitals and general public services we need after so many years of Tory austerity.

“But Kieran, doesn’t mass immigration undercut the wages of the worst off?” I hear you ask. “Aren’t those the people Labour should be trying to protect, instead of lowering their income?” The argument that immigration reduces the wages of low income workers is the big myth of the immigration debate. Right-wing politicians and commentators love to spout it, often supporting this by drawing a supply and demand diagram. When analysis more complex than drawing two lines on a graph is carried out, there is little to no evidence that this actually happens.  The economist David Card at UC Berkeley’s analysis of the Mariel Boatlift, which is generally regarded by economists as the closest we have to a natural experiment in the effects of immigration, found no evidence of it. There is also no conclusive evidence of mass immigration undercutting wages during the recent ‘immigration boom’ in the UK.

To fight for the worst off and those in need, Labour should be welcoming immigration, and focusing on redistribution. We live in one of the most unequal times since the 1920s, in terms of both income and wealth inequality. Wages are stagnating for the working and middle classes while they are skyrocketing for the rich, and this has been happening since the 1980s. What Labour needs to concentrate on is this, not parroting the right and scapegoating those who are good for our society.

Sexism in the Labour Party

With Westminster in turmoil over the recent sexual assault scandals, Iris Kaye-Smith, current co-chair of OULC, talks about her experiences with sexism in OULC and her hopes for a cultural change in Oxford’s student political societies.

I remember being a fresher in Oxford University Labour Club, sat in a college bar with some older members after a meeting. One guy, a prominent activist in the grassroots organisation Momentum, was telling me that one of his OULC rivals was being investigated by his college for allegedly sexually assaulting a female peer.

This, in and of itself, was chilling – I was a sheltered eighteen-year-old, still under the impression that assault and harassment were uncommon occurrences, that it didn’t happen here, that the perpetrators were the easily recognisable kind of older men who pushed up against you in clubs, not people you knew, not members of the student wings of progressive, left-wing political parties.

But what disturbed me further, and has stayed with me since, was the undisguised glee in the voice and expression of the guy telling me about the incident, smirking as if it was any other piece of gossip. The assault of a fellow student meant nothing to him. This information was nothing more than a stick with which to beat a political opponent.

So, I wasn’t surprised when other women in Young Labour also warned me about this man, who took such barefaced delight in the knowledge that someone he didn’t like had been accused of rape. I wasn’t surprised when other women told me about being bullied and harassed by him at Labour events. I wasn’t surprised when, at a black tie dinner, he’d joked that one of the club’s former women’s officers was “only ever good for one thing.” What still surprises me is the sheer scale of hypocrisy on the left.

The ‘Weinstein effect’ hit Westminster last week, with a number of high profile allegations emerging about MPs on both sides of the chamber. Labour’s Clive Lewis and Kelvin Hopkins have both been accused of inappropriate conduct with women, while Labour activist Bex Bailey has spoken out about being told to stay silent when she was assaulted by a party official in 2011. It’s clear that Labour is far from being immune to the misogynistic attitudes that pervade our society and our culture.

It’s worth noting that as recently as a few months ago, such uncomfortable conversations could not be had in the Labour party without them becoming the battlegrounds of a factional war. It’s true that the general election seems to have patched up some of the divisions, or at least papered over the cracks. But it’s still not clear whether a Labour party member can call out abusive or prejudiced behaviour of another Labour party member, without it being taken as a judgement on wherever the latter’s internal sympathies lie. Basically, if someone’s harassing other members, whether physically or with hateful rhetoric, whether or not you condemn them should not hinge on whether they support Jeremy Corbyn or they don’t. But all too frequently, this has been the case.

It is still the opinion of many (it has to be said, older) men on the left that feminism is a bourgeois ideology that aims to divide the proletariat on gender-based lines, and feminist activism a deliberate distraction from ‘proper’ socialism. Others would say that we have come far enough, that 45% of the Parliamentary Labour Party is female, and women’s groups within the party serve a purely ceremonial purpose. But the problems women face in politics are far from solved, whether it’s serious sexual assault, snide comments, men taking credit for women’s work, or speaking over women in debates about women’s rights. It would be insulting to victims of sexual assault for me to equate all of these things in terms of how damaging they can be, but they all stem from the same cause – misogyny and male entitlement.

In our own small club in Oxford, generations of women have worked hard to change a political culture that treats the freedom of half the population as a peripheral issue. It took several successive women’s officers to make the case for getting rid of OUCA-style alcohol-fuelled debating events from the term card – going to a couple of these events as a fresher, I typically found myself one of three or four women in a room full of braying public schoolboys. Constitutional changes to reserve committee positions and at least one co-chair position for a woman has done a lot to tip the balance of representation in OULC leadership, and this has had a positive effect on making women feel more welcome in the club. I would like to think that any woman at Oxford could come to an OULC event without fear of being harassed by another member, let alone a committee officer. But OULC exists within a wider political culture at Oxford, one that is overwhelmingly masculine, and while many men in OULC are decent, good people, there is something of a blind spot about this issue. I have ‘comrades’ who call themselves feminists in their twitter bios, but throw around words like ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’ as terms of abuse; who have listened patiently to me when I talk about sexism in the Labour party, but also repeatedly groped me when they’re drunk; who say they have no idea why women feel intimidated in student politics, but shout women down in meetings, and laugh at rape jokes in the pub afterwards.

All men, and especially ones who claim to be in favour of equality, need to take a good look in the mirror after recent events. If any good can come of this, it will force us to take sexism seriously, not as a rhetorical device, or a point-scoring system, but as a phenomenon that exists on pretty much every level of our culture, and which is a poison in our movement. If we want to show the courage of our conviction that socialism can give us justice and equality, we will start with our own conduct and attitudes. And if Oxford student politics really is producing the leaders of tomorrow, I hope, for all our sakes, we re-examine its culture.


Campaigning: it’s not that bad

Campaigning Article Pic 2









Hannah Taylor, former co-chair of OULC, dispels some campaigning myths in her helpful guide to door-knocking.

I barely ever went campaigning in my first year at university. It was scary. Having never done it at home I had no idea what it would involve. I had horrible visions of being shouted at by angry people annoyed at being disturbed, or getting way out of my depth in a detailed policy question.

It’s not like that.

Here’s what happens:

  • We meet up in a place or get a bus (probably later than intended).
    You can claim your bus tickets back from the treasurer if you like.
  • The rest of the local Labour party are surprised at just how many young people have turned up and reward us with stickers (we even got a balloon once!)
  • We get split into groups with one person who knows what they’re doing as a “board runner.” You can stick with a friend at this point, and quite often OULC go together in a couple of groups.
  • The board runner takes you to a street and directs you to a house, telling you who lives there and what we know about their past voting intentions (you can go with someone who knows what they are doing for as long as you want).
  • You go knock on the door. If they answer, you ask them something along the lines of if they have any local issues and if they’ve decided who they’re going to vote for next time. You are not trying to persuade them, just collect the data.
  • You say thank you very much and report back to the person with the clipboard, then move onto the next house.

The whole thing doesn’t take very long, just a morning usually and it’s a good change from sitting at a desk all day. One time door knocking I stroked 3 cats, the time before that, we went to Greggs together afterwards, so I do highly recommend.

Big emphasis that you can go around with a person who is experienced for as long as you want, so you can literally just go to the door with them and let them do all the talking.

If you do have any more questions about what campaigning is like, then please get in touch!


Homage to Catalonia

As we see more twists and turns in the Catalan crisis, Angus Brown argues for the right of Catalans to vote for independence and offers a thought-provoking critique of his fellow OULC members.

“Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom.”

These words were how George Orwell, a veteran of the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification who fought fascism in Spain from 1936 described the sentiment in revolutionary Catalonia, then under the control of the CNT-FAI (an Anarcho-Syndicalist organisation which had rallied a significant portion of the Spanish left behind her vision of decentralisation, democracy and equality for all). That was eighty-one years ago, and now once more – against a backdrop of global financial crisis and stagnation, the rise of populist demagoguery, and growing geopolitical tensions – the people of Catalonia have risen up. In a bold play for self-determination, the Catalan government called a referendum on independence for the region based upon the victory of the Catalan nationalist JxSÍ in the region’s 2015 election, which resulted in parties in favour of Catalan self-determination securing an astonishing 56.7% of the vote – in such circumstances it seems only fair that the Catalan government should see whether her people support the region’s exit from Spain. What was Spain’s response? A brutal crackdown; violent repression and the suppression of the voting rights of Catalan citizens by force. The world was horrified at what had transpired, and condemnation of the violence was near universal even if the global establishment was characteristically reticent about any intervention.

It was with this violent oppression – the culmination, one must add, of centuries of oppression of Catalonians by Spain – as a background that I attended a debate of the Oxford University Labour Club on the subject, expecting condemnations of Spain and wholehearted support for the Catalan struggle. What I instead discovered was that many of my colleagues in the OULC, though rightly condemning the violence of the Spanish Government, not only did not support the referendum, but, shockingly, did not believe Catalonia even had a right to hold it. Excuses were given of course – the Catalonian government wishes to be independent to implement right-wing policies, or that we should be working to abolish nationalism in favour of Internationalist solidarity, or that a referendum in which voters were actively beaten up by the police did not see a high turnout; there were even some questionable claims that Catalonia is hardly oppressed due to its relative wealth within Spain (this despite decades of Francoist oppression and centuries of Spanish imperialism before that). Where here were the values of the Labour Party? A party which supports self-determination and democracy in the face of oppression, the same party which supported the Spanish rebels of the 1930s, and whose members – in Oxford at least – now seemed to reject that right to decide one’s own fate merely because the people making the decision had the audacity to hold different political views to them.

The same old arguments were made of course that no group have a “right” to simply declare themselves a nation and leave the one they are currently in, but even if one accepts such a claim it hardly applies here – Catalonia has a long history of independence as the pre-Spanish Kingdom of Aragon, and a distinct cultural legacy separate from the Castilian cultural hegemony of Madrid. The people of Catalonia have hardly woken up one day and declared that they shall now reject Spain, but have instead long struggled first for autonomy and now for independence. Even if one believes that the referendum held this year did not see a high enough turnout to be binding and conclusive, should one not still accept that the Catalonian people have a right to a free and fair referendum to settle the issue for themselves? If such a referendum were to yield a radically different result to this one (in which over 90% of voters cast their ballots in favour of independence) then of course we should respect their decision to remain within Spain, but what is important is that they have the right to choose for themselves.

Of course, one does not agree with the views of Catalonia’s government that the poorer regions of Spain are “stealing” their money through taxes, but this does not void their right to choose their own fate. One would not, for example, bar someone from voting merely because they believed in right-wing policies with which we supporters of the Labour party often find vile and dangerous, so why should a people with such right-wing ideals be prevented from voting on the future of their own nation? Unless one gives into dark and undemocratic impulses it seems impossible to justify denying the Catalans a referendum on their own sovereignty. Such ideas are as dangerous as they are inconsistent, and mark a worrying trend in modern politics to see those we disagree with as “the enemy” – any other with views alien to our own who we must oppose at every turn.

In short, if one is committed both to progressive politics and to the right of all peoples to democracy and self-determination then one must also accept that it is just and fair for Catalonia to hold a referendum on the future of the region and whether or not it shall remain part of Spain. To say that the Catalonian people are not oppressed in the light of the force used against them is so clearly untrue, as is the claim that they do not form a nation “worthy” of independence, and one finds it to not only to be logically inconsistent but dangerous to suggest that their right-wing aims should prevent them from having a right to decide their own nation’s future. In such times of strife and turbulence as these, we must not stoop so low as to deny our ideological rivals of their rights, and we must remain committed, as always, to the progressive policies of democracy and self-determination.