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Books: The Politics Of Immigration

A new book explains why attempts by western countries to 'ring fence' themselves against immigration are failing, says JOHN MOORE

The Politics Of Immigration

by James Hampshire

(Polity, £16.99)

According to James Hampshire, the conflicting forces behind immigration policy are an essential feature of advanced capitalism.

They fill skills gaps and labour shortages, ranging from IT and financial services down to the lower-wage sectors of the market which are unattractive to indigenous workers for various reasons, not least low pay.

Hampshire shows how governments have long favoured immigration in order to "build the nation," the leading example being the US where, in face of popular opposition, the compromise solution was the "racial ring fence" which excluded Asians until 1965.

There was also a "White Australia" policy over a similar period and in Britain in the late 1960s when inflammatory propaganda directed against colonial immigrants, notably by Enoch Powell, led to legislation to restrict numbers.

Today, despite the economic crisis and the inflaming of opinion across Europe by far-right and neofascist parties, there have been no wholesale reductions in immigration across the OECD countries. Governments in the rich economies have actively encouraged some types of economic migrants and restricted others.

Apart from economic migration, all states that have signed the UN conventions are legally bound to give refuge to those arrivals who "face a well-founded fear of persecution" in their own country. Hampshire endorses the view that asylum has become "organised hypocrisy" because of conditions being tightened, with family access, language tests, reduction in rights to benefits or the growing use of deportation all now underway.

Hampshire's view is that jobs have a bigger influence on integration than culture, bearing in mind that throughout Europe immigrants have higher levels of unemployment than native-born workers.

As an academic writer, his main purpose is to present a framework of concepts - democracy, constitutionalism, capitalism and nationhood - that influence policymaking. He eschews analysis of Europe's developing crisis as right-wing and neofascist parties inflame popular prejudice against immigrants in their turf-war for votes, with fear of Islam and Muslims a major ingredient of their policies.

Yet immigrants from the EU, a common labour market as well as a common market for goods and services, are the present targets of attack in Britain, with a frenzy of fear and resentment whipped up by right-wing newspapers and the warnings of Prime Minister David Cameron.

This ignores the reality that Britain has 2.2 million EU migrants but there are 1.4m Britons living in other EU countries. It's in this context that European big business rationalises production and increases profits over the expanded market, while imposing austerity on ordinary people continent-wide.

A socialist alternative for Britain will necessitate its departure from the EU and resumption of powers to control its economy. That will change the ball game for migrations from Europe but just how far depends on the needs of society.

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