Is it possible for politicians to talk about immigration without lurching to the right?

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21 November
17:34
November
2016

Yes. There is some very interesting stuff done by academic writers on the question of how to deal with national borders: if cosmopolitanism is the only way forward, is multiculturalism a good way of ordering a society and so on? Controlling or regulating immigration can be seen as a legitimate basis of state activity and it need not be conceded to the right – although it is the right who have clearly made the most of it.

"Historically, there are plenty examples of the left having a view on immigration and globalisation"

Like all issues, it’s a matter of how it’s presented to the public and how a political party treats it. For example, Margret Thatcher turned buying your council house into a political preference for citizens in the 1980s and 1990s, though they didn’t articulate that preference until she came along and invented the policy of selling council houses. You can do something similar with immigration. No country will exist without immigration and no country will exist with totally free borders and without a system of regulation, so the question is what you do and how you present that policy. In a globalised world, immigration is always an issue; people will want to see it managed because it’s one where the population will directly feel its effects.

It can be a flag for racism and xenophobia, but equally it can be about managing the development and protection of citizens, both in and outside your borders.

There’s no reason why immigration needs to be conceded to the right. Politicians on the left like Jeremy Corbyn himself and Yvette Cooper have recently begun to show there are ways to discuss the issue that don’t lead you into the arms of the far right, or even UKIP. Besides, historically there are plenty examples of the left having a view on immigration and globalisation. If you recall when the UK to decided to join what would become the European Union in 1975, people like Tony Benn were vehemently against the European Community because it was seen as corporate state that would exploit workers.

Isolationism has been owned by both the left and the right, as you saw that in the Brexit debate where people on the left campaigned for Britain to leave the EU alongside those on the right. And isolationism is a policy that has some credibility. The United States, for example, has adopted it at various times in its history as a way of managing its own internal affairs without lurching to the far right.

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