Immigration politics

The future of Australia is to be of accelerating ethnic diversity. Could immigration become a major political issue, as it has in Europe and the US, and can being a major issue actually change votes. In the US conservative activists are mobilised about immigration but it doesn’t seem to mobilise swing voters. An interesting article by the British Labour MP Jon Cruddas:

Over the last few years, many of our communities have experienced extraordinary rates of change – primarily driven by mass migration, changing patterns in the demand for labour and the dynamics of the housing market. ..the communities undergoing these rapid demographic changes are often the most poorly equipped to do so, and maintain high levels of poverty, social immobility and poor public services. Poorer, low-cost housing areas, primarily in urban settings, are taking the strain in managing migration fl ows. The impact of migration on the labour and housing markets has triggered tensions and threatened community cohesion. .Those negatively affected by migration perceive government efforts to tackle immigration as being woefully inadequate, as the issues which concern them are not sufficiently reported in the media and therefore are not commonly understood. This underreporting, combined with the strain placed on existing services by the recent expansion in migration, has led to disillusionment and caused voters to seek populist answers. The economic losers from immigration are becoming increasingly alienated from their traditional Labour representation…Due to the lack of a visible and coherent Labour policy, right-wing political parties (both mainstream and more extremist) have garnered support from traditional Labour voters. Immigration is a contentious issue which will increasingly determine electoral outcomes…Globalisation and the information and communication technologies have been widely cited as the key contemporary levers of change that are reshaping the labour markets of the future. Yet, the fundamental problem with this conception of the ‘new knowledge economy’ is one of evidence. On the basis of both the empirical changes over the last ten years and the best projections for the future, it is clear that we are witnessing an ever more pronounced polarisation within the labour market – and wider society – often described as the ‘hour glass’ economy. On the one hand, there exists a primary labour market – the knowledge economy. On the other, there is an expanding secondary labour market where the largest growth is occurring – in service-related elementary occupations, administrative and clerical occupations, sales occupations, caring, personal service jobs and the like. In terms of absolute employment growth since the early 1990s, the fastest growing occupations have been in four long-established services (sales assistants, data input clerks, storekeepers and receptionists); in state dominated education and health services; and the caring occupations (care assistants, welfare and community workers, and nursery nurses). In short, employment growth has been concentrated in occupations that could scarcely be judged new, still less the fulcrum of a ‘new economy’. New Labour’s political strategy has been driven by the dynamics at work at the top end of this hour glass – the political inference being that those who occupy the bottom half will always stick with Labour as they have no other viable alternative. For purposes of political positioning, the worldview has developed which renders the working class invisible and downgrades the needs of working class communities. Yet paradoxically, New Labour has overseen an economic strategy characterised by the expansion in the demand for relatively low waged work. In short, empirically it has brought about the development of a thriving bottom of the hour glass. This mix has tended to create a brittle tension between the narrative of New Labour and the empirical realities of the modern world…migrant labour – regulated and unregulated – has in reality been the cornerstone of government economic strategy, fuelled by the demand for relatively low-waged labour. The best illustration of this collision between rhetoric and reality is the data regarding the minimal prosecutions for those employing un-regularised migrant labour. Given the rate of inward migration alongside the lack of market regulation, it is impossible to conclude anything other than that migrant labour is seen as a key driver in tacitly de-regulating the labour market in order to reproduce this flexible low waged economy…between 2003 and 2005 the percentage of white children on the school roll fell by some 9.1 per cent – three quarters of this change was accounted for by black African children – as the influx of migrants radically changed the demographics of certain areas. Immigration is occurring in ever greater numbers. One of the key factors behind the emergence of the extreme right is this breach between the formal state perception of the borough and the day to day dynamics at work within the locality. The incremental investment in public services by the state on the basis of out of date population statistics cannot begin to deal with concerns that demographic change is occurring whilst resources are becoming scarcer…New Labour has quite consciously removed class as an economic or political category.

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