It is with a heavy heart that I must report that the Liberal Democrats are at it again. Their current consultation on ‘a liberal immigration policy’ has been the subject of condemnation from many party members.
As so often, I find myself agreeing. The immigration issue is another example of the Lib Dems failing to think boldly about a liberal starting point for policy development. For some reason, the party still seems to think it must start from the current political landscape and work backwards.
The same disease afflicts our Brexit policy, which remains pathetically and painfully unambitious. We remain wedded to the idea of another referendum, even though democratic principle and practical experience should both tell us that this is a non-starter.
Brexit has been shown to be an unprecedented fraud perpetrated on the UK, one that is damaging not just to our country but to the EU and to the world. The only conceivable choice for a liberal, internationalist party is to commit to the revocation of Article 50. The way negotiations have gone, I am gobsmacked that we are still talking about giving people a say on ‘the deal’ as if that is a sufficient response to a constitutional and generational political crisis.
If the party cannot get serious about being liberal when it is on single figures in the polls, I find myself questioning whether it ever will. This is the best possible time to carve out bold new positions and ideas that make us genuinely different to other parties.
The lights are going out on liberal democracy everywhere. Yet the Lib Dems are refusing to rage against the dying of the light.
For the record, here are my answers to the consultation questions, along with glosses explaining some of the answers. It is open until April 12th. I hope other members will also consider responding.
What in your view is the biggest issue facing UK immigration system? [sic]
That the system itself is set up to be adversarial towards non-UK citizens. This is not a fair starting point and reflects neither the rights I want our country to extend to all people, nor the importance of immigration to our culture and society as a liberalising, enriching, and tolerance-supporting phenomenon, nor the huge economic benefits of immigration.
Please rank the areas of immigration policy that the consultation considers in order of priority: where first is the area in most urgent need of reform and last is the area in least urgent need of reform:
- Asylum seekers and refugees
- Individuals without immigration status
- Family migration
- Student and academic migration
- Employment and economic migration
- Identity and social cohesion
- Administration and oversight of migration
[My approach here was simply to put people first, and more vulnerable people first among equals, on the basis that if we are to create a liberal, humanitarian policy, that’s the most important thing we could do – points 5-7 are secondary because they are the ‘how’ and not the ‘why’ of immigration]
Do you feel that immigration over the last 25 years has had a positive or negative impact on the UK? (1 is very negative, 7 is very positive)
7 – very positive
Are there any categories of migration for which you think an immigration target is appropriate?
UK citizens should be allowed to bring immediate family (spouse/partner, children under 18) irrespective of their income, as long as they are self-sufficient, i.e can support them and provide housing without recourse to public funds. [1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree]
I couldn’t answer this question, as it doesn’t give the option of rejecting its premise. UK citizens should be able to bring immediate family regardless of their economic circumstances or self-sufficiency. It’s a basic right.
What do you think of the current rules on when the parents of British citizens can migrate to the UK?
Far too strict.
[I nearly refused the opportunity to respond to this question for similar reasons to the last one, but as the list of answers is more qualitative, I feel slightly more comfortable]
How far do you agree with the below statements about student migration?
Foreign students attending UK universities are beneficial to the country
There is too much pressure on universities and colleges to monitor foreign students
There should be new visa categories that allow foreign students to stay in the UK after they have completed their degree/course to gain further practical experience or take up employment
[I couldn’t answer this one, as ‘Strongly agree’ implies more visa categories added to an already over-complicated system, while anything else suggests I don’t want to give students the right to live and work in the UK.]
How much do you agree or disagree with the below statements about economic migration?
There should be a limit on the number of work visas that are issued each year
Visas should be allocated on a regional points-based system
Visas should be allocated on a sectoral points-based system
Salary limits for work visas should vary depending on sector
[Again, I can’t answer this one, as I don’t believe there should be salary limits for work visas]
What do you think of the number of refugees and asylum seekers that the UK currently takes in? (1 = far too many, 7 = far too few)
7 – far too few
Please indicate how important you think each of these options is for enabling migrants to integrate into UK society
[I couldn’t answer any of these genuinely, as I don’t think there’s much evidence that migrants aren’t integrating well into UK society. It’s far less of a problem than UK citizens’ attitudes towards immigrants.]
Finally, if you were to recommend one change to the Party’s immigration policy, what would it be?
- Please stop being a slightly less bad version of Labour, who are a slightly less bad version of the Tories.
- Start instead being a liberal party that leads society and improves democracy by operating according to principles. If voters continue to believe lies, advocate for the truth.
- If we can’t have the courage of our convictions now, we never will. If you don’t share these convictions, please change yours.
7 thoughts on “What will it take for the Lib Dems to get bolder?”
I think you will find that it was moving away from the liberal centre that got us into this mess.
What are you specifically referring to?
Well we were at 62 MPs and 22% in 2005. I suggest you look at what happened between then and 2015.
As far as I can see, the main thing that happened over that period was that the party was taken over by a group that wanted to tack to the ‘centre’ at all costs, with ever more ‘split-the-difference’ messaging and policy, at the cost of the reputation for plain-speaking liberalism that had taken us to our high-water mark in electoral terms.
Perhaps you can explain what you mean by ‘liberal centre’, as from my perspective it’s an oxymoron, at least based on previous party leaders’ insistence upon staying in ‘the centre’.
If you think what Nick led us to was the centre, it shows how far Nick moved the centre rightwards in Lib Dem perceptions. Nick, Danny, David et al had a real drive to take the Lib Dems from our centre/centre left home to the extreme liberal right, and did so with catastrophic consequences. The split the difference messaging only emerged in their desperation to hide their failure in the run up to the 2015 election.
I think I can see where we’re talking past each other. I think we actually pretty much agree. I would see the attempt to characterise what has happened on a left-right spectrum as impossible. Nick et al’s definition of the centre didn’t even meet that limited definition, because it had nothing to do with a political compass-style concept of centre on a left/right scale. It had everything to do with the centre as defined as ‘between Labour and the Tories’, mostly for pragmatic short-term reasons, which, as you say, had the effect of allowing the Tories to drag us off to the (actual) right, and in the long term ensured that we lost any independent voice while in coalition, along with the bizarre ‘hug the Tories close’ ‘strategy’.
Where we were under Charles Kennedy had little to do with left and right. We ended up to the left of Labour and the Tories under him, but that was the inevitable consequence of standing for justice, equality, liberty and non-conformity – and, of course, genuine internationalism – at a time of soundbites, sycophants and scoundrels.
I have little interest in where we end up on some right-left scale; I am far more interested in our being liberals, and helping to change the minds of a media and a public that has forgotten (or never knew) what that means.
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