Too Hot to Handle

“The British view of migration levels does not respond to the actual migration level; it is like a thermometer which says the temperature is “too hot” regardless of whether it is 30C or -10C.” – Robert Ford, Behind the Headlines, a nation divided over immigration.

If the level of immigration rhetoric in 2013 left anyone wondering if it could possibly increase, the first ten days of 2014 answered with a resounding yes. Most of it was white noise about Romanians and Bulgarians, but there was also some interesting research, some re-framing and a few programmes on the subject – some more useful than others.

A lot of the tabloids made a lot of noise about NatCen’s finding in the British Social Attitudes survey that 77% of people think that immigration should be reduced. What was less trumpeted was the context, as explained by Robert Ford in his article on the figures.

“Pollsters have been asking British people this question for almost exactly 50 years, and in practically every poll, a hefty majority of 60-85% report that migration levels are too high.”

In fact, when you look at how people responded to questions about the effects of migration, the public view has improved slightly since 2011. The truth is that the public view on immigration is complicated and more nuanced than policitians would have you believe, especially as the pandering tends to be towards the most negative view. To make the picture even more complex, for some people immigration is a voting issue, while for others it does not outflank other concerns.

Interestingly, if the public attitude is impervious to facts or actual immigration figures then how to do you factor this into immigration policy? Or, seeing as you can never be “right” on immigration but there is nuance within the headline figures, do you make the case for it?

As Ford puts it:

“The negative voices are heard more loudly, and more frequently, which leads many to conclude their views are more widespread than is in fact the case. This helps those with the most negative views to drive the political agenda. With universities, businesses and economic researchers worrying that the current government’s restrictions to migration may be economically harmful, perhaps the time has come for the silent, pragmatic majority to speak up.”

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