Funny how politicians leap on bandwagons before an election - first bank bonuses, now immigration. After a few soothing words about how important migrants were for the UK economy, Gordon Brown went on to outline lots more controls to stop them. Should play well among all those Labour voters who defected to the BNP.
The reality is that immigration has shrunk. All those Poles are going home, now that the streets of Britain are no longer paved with gold. Not that Gordon Brown's new 'tough' policy could prevent EU citizens from working here anyway. Migration has contributed billions to the UK economy. Migrants are 60% less likely to draw state benefits.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson admitted that Labour's immigration policy is a mess, and he's right. It has chased one headline after another, ending up with a dog's breakfast of a 'system' that is neither efficient nor just. Immigrants and their families can be detained indefinitely, are not allowed to work or draw benefits – so they end up being exploited in dangerous and underpaid illicit jobs.
The new points system is supposed to rationalize all this; but it has already proved damaging. We do actually need unskilled migrant workers in our businesses and public services. Overseas students are stymied with all sorts of paperwork and no longer feel welcome, choking Britain's reputation in international education. Companies complain of visa bottlenecks and having to advertise for chief executives in job centres so as to prove that no native person can do the job. The Tories want the same, but with caps on. It will be a relief when the election is over and we can (briefly) discuss this subject rationally again.
Dr Butler's book The Rotten State of Britain is now in paperback.