One voter in four would consider voting UKIP at the next election, according to a poll in the Mail on Sunday (31 October). The poll was published as UKIP looks set to win the Rochester and Strood by-election. Even allowing for bias from a poll commissioned by a paper which routinely feeds hostility to the EU and migration, the level of UKIP support is disturbing.
David Cameron’s recent proposal to introduce immigration quotas for people entering the UK from the EU is about reducing high electoral support for UKIP. But it’s a strategy that is doomed to failure: anybody worried about, or opposed to, the EU and/or wanting to curb immigration is not going to vote for the monkey when they can back the organ grinder — the really anti-EU and anti-migrant party, UKIP.
The background to the Tories’ raising of the stakes on immigration, apart from competition with UKIP, is a failure to deliver on a promise to bring UK net migration — the difference between those entering and leaving — to below 100,000. Official figures published in August showed UK net migration increased by more than 38% to 243,000 in 2013-14 and EU citizens accounted for two-thirds of the growth.
All the Tories have succeeded in doing with talk about quotas is annoy EU politicians. Angela Merkel was prompted to state that the principle of free movement in the EU is “non-negotiable”. In other words, if Britain wants immigration quotas, it will have to exit the EU.
Of course British capitalists do not want UK to leave the EU. That was why George Osborne was forced to play down the possibility. Quotas may now be off the agenda but all kinds of benefit restrictions remain policy options. At least that policy allows the Tories to claim that migrants (EU migrants, all migrants) are, to quote Osborne, “creating a huge pressure on public services”, that this is an issue that “the British public want addressed” because “these... welfare payments [are] paid for by hardworking British taxpayers.”
This is all dishonest nonesense.
Migrants don’t come to the UK to claim benefits or access public services. They come to the UK because capitalists want to exploit their labour, and often at or below the minimum wage.
Moreoever EU migrants, in contrast to UK-born people, pay more tax per year than they “take out” of the system in benefits and services. From 2001 to 2011 EU migrants paid a surplus tax of around £2,700 per year each.
Unfortunately the Labour Party has joined in on the anti-immigration rhetoric. Speaking in Rochester Ed Miliband promised an immigration bill if Labour is elected in 2015. That will include, he said, action on border checks, exploitation and “opportunities for UK workers”. He also promised to double the period of residence before people would be entitled to benefits.
UKIP’s recent electoral success (and projected future success) is part of a trend across Europe of growing support for the far right. It cannot be dismissed as flash-in-the-pan protest votes.
Tory and Labour mirroring of UKIP’s anti-immigration campaign is not only xenophobic and dishonest, it is also extremely dangerous. It is helping UKIP to stir up the growing feeling of economic insecurity in society, among both working-class and better-off people.
It is building support for the repressive police operations which regularly take place against refugees across Europe. It is helping to create a political climate where it okay for governments in Europe, including the UK government, to say they will do nothing to prevent migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, because help would “encourage” migration.
It is poverty, exploitation and the violence of states in the capitalist world which impels people to travel thousands of miles to find work to sustain themselves and their families. It is the left’s job to explain why global capitalism works in this way, why it makes us all desperate to one degree or another, how it makes profits off our backs, and why building workers’ unity, not raising borders is the only way to defend ourselves.
UKIP’s success is in good part the product of weaknesses in the left’s fight to build a constituency for working-class socialism.
In the Rochester and Strood by-election and in the general election next year, the issue of immigration and countering the racist and xenophobic myths has to be the left’s priority.