Since Labour came to power Britain has experienced its largest wave of immigration ever. It may turn out to be New Labour’s most significant legacy. Yet it seems to have happened almost by accidentby David Goodhart / February 8, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
Since Labour’s 1997 election victory 1.6m people have been granted permanent right of residence in Britain, mainly from developing countries. And in 2008 24 per cent of all births in England and Wales were to foreign-born mothers, rising to nearly 50 per cent in London. Strikingly, however, at no point in the last 12 years does there seem to have been a strategic discussion in cabinet about the purpose of much higher levels of immigration.
In the course of making an Analysis programme for BBC Radio 4 on New Labour and mass immigration, I discovered that the final decision to open Britain’s labour market to—as it turned out—more than 1m eastern Europeans was taken by a small group of officials and special advisers before an EU council of ministers meeting in Brussels.
An accumulation of small decisions, all of them perfectly rational and sensible in their own right, has led to a mighty big—and pretty unpopular—outcome. So why did it happen? There were two big background factors: much cheaper mass transit and Britain as a “magnet” both economically and culturally. Our fast growing economy—at least for most of the last 12 years—plus a deregulated labour market meant jobs galore at all skill levels. Then there is the pull of the English language and the “London effect”—a city with communities from all around the world.