Another day, another bad-tempered debate between two diametrically opposed politicians on immigration. This morning’s ding-dong on Radio 4 between Ukip’s Paul Nuttall and Labour’s Mike Gapes fell into the category of Debates That Won’t Change Anyone’s Mind But Will Make Them Grumpy Before 9am – a modern-day Sisyphean punishment.
The pair were discussing Ukip’s European elections, which in case you decided to take Easter off from being habitually outraged, are below:
Nuttall was arguing that his party was on the side of the British people on this issue and that the posters were simply presenting the facts. Unfortunately, his party did choose one industry facing a shortage of skilled workers – construction – for one of the posters, which has added grist to the mill of his critics who argue that immigration is helping build Britain, not destroy it (but it’s worth reading a column Fraser wrote a little while back on how politicians rely on immigration partly because they’ve failed to construct decent welfare and education systems).
Gapes was arguing that this sort of rhetoric could make Britain a nasty country. Some other outraged people have spend the Easter weekend arguing about whether we live in a Christian country, but aside from that, we are indeed incredibly fortunate to live in a welcoming country that loves freedom. Gapes worries that Ukip and those who try to imitate Ukip will destroy that.
Regardless of who is right or wrong, the point is that Ukip is winning on this issue. Not just because the outrage over the posters among those who are quite happy about mass immigration just puffs more air into Nigel Farage’s bellows by suggesting to voters who aren’t quite so happy that the ‘liberal metropolitan elite’ still want to shout down debate about immigration. But also because it changes the whole debate into one where mainstream politicians find themselves desperately repeating mollifying phrases like ‘it’s fine to worry about the effects of immigration’ or ‘for too long politicians haven’t had an open debate about immigration’. And because all three main parties have had to toughen up their immigration policies to respond to Ukip.
Labour might not be all that thankful to Mike Gapes for jumping up and down on these Ukip posters when it has spent months rolling the pitch by saying it is ‘understandable’ to worry about the negative impacts of immigration and announcing tougher and tougher measures to control those negative impacts. I wrote about the party’s attempts to at least neutralise immigration as an issue earlier this year, and since then Yvette Cooper has continued to announce ‘tough’ policies. There is no longer an attempt to take the Gapes position on this issue. So Nuttall and Gapes and others who take similar position can continue to debate this issue as long as Sisyphus rolled his boulder up the hill – but deep down, both know that one of them has already won when it comes to the political debate.