ADOPTING A MORE OPEN APPROACH TO MIGRATION would not damage the electoral prospects of either of the two largest Westminster-based parties, according to new IPPR research, contrary to the widespread belief that tough immigration policies are a guaranteed vote-winner.
Analysis of recent data on voting intentions and changing attitudes to immigration suggests that a more flexible approach would attract many more swing voters than it would repel for Labour, while for the Conservatives a restrictive policy on immigration now alienates as many swing voters as it attracts.
According to an illustrative model of voting behaviour focusing on the swing voters most likely to switch parties, Labour could attract five per cent of the public, and only repel two per cent, by signalling a more open approach to immigration, while the Conservatives would attract three per cent and repel two per cent.
In contrast, only one per cent of the public would be attracted to Labour if it adopted a restrictive stance on immigration, and 11 per cent would be repelled. For the Conservatives, a restrictive stance would attract just two per cent and an equal number would be repelled.
The gain of swing voters for Labour would only risk a negligible loss of current supporters with migration-sceptic views. However, it is a more complex picture for the Conservatives, as gains could be offset by losses.
The analysis comes after a decade of warming public attitudes to immigration, which now sees half of the public express positive views of migration, compared to one-third in 2014. In addition:
- A large majority believe immigration supports, rather than hinders, economic recovery.
- Just nine per cent of the public saw immigration as a top priority on average over the course of 2022 so far, compared to 44 per cent in 2015.
- Most people with an opinion on the matter, for the first time ever recorded, say immigration levels should stay the same or increase.
Conversely, as highlighted in the fall-out from the Windrush scandal, there can be a political cost for cruel and punitive immigration policies which do not accord with the values of the public. The public now favour an immigration system which is well-managed, recognises contribution, and exercises compassion.
A new approach to immigration, based on ‘rules-based openness’ – which balances a flexible, well-managed system with recognition of contribution and compassion – can win broad public backing and progress the post-Brexit debate on the politics of immigration. To illustrate this approach, IPPR proposes four key policy initiatives:
- Reform the points-based system to move away from a strict approach based only on skills and salary requirements and allow for exemptions for occupations of economic and social value.
- Enable migrants to contribute and integrate by easing pathways to settlement and citizenship.
- Expand the Homes for Ukraine scheme sponsorship scheme to other nationalities to capitalise on the outpouring of public support for refugees.
- Change Home Office culture to ensure the policymaking process is more transparent and open to scrutiny.
Marley Morris, Associate Director for migration, trade and communities at IPPR, said: “Our new research out today finds that public opinion on immigration has warmed at a striking rate over recent years.
“The transformation in public attitudes now provides an opportunity for a new consensus on immigration policy. The public expect a well-ordered and carefully managed system of immigration, but they also want the system to be flexible, responsive and compassionate. An agenda on immigration and asylum which captures this perspective could command broad public support.”
Rob Ford, professor of political science at Manchester university and co-author of the report, said: “There has been a sea change in public opinion on immigration in the past decade, unlocking a centre ground majority for an immigration system which combines clear and well enforced rules with open flexible policies to maximise the gains from immigration, compassion to those fleeing conflict and generosity to those who have made their homes in Britain.
“The public value the social and economic contributions of immigrants and support reforms to better recognise these contributions through more open, flexible criteria for entry and easier pathways to settlement and citizenship for those who have made their homes in Britain.”
* Read: A new consensus? How public opinion has warmed to immigration here.
* Source: Institute for Public Policy Research