Friday, September 17, 2010

Cracks in the coalition: is the Government's immigration cap damaging the economy?

While all eyes remain fixed on Pope Benedict's state visit to the United Kingdom, deep cracks are emerging within the coalition Government on the deeply divisive issue of immigration. The BBC reports here that:

"[. . .] Downing Street has denied claims by Business Secretary Vince Cable that the government's interim immigration cap is doing "huge damage" to business.

Mr Cable said firms were considering moving jobs abroad because they could not recruit the staff they needed.

He told the Financial Times he backed plans for a permanent cap from April but wanted it to be more flexible.

No 10 said the cap would be implemented in a way that still allowed the brightest and best to come to Britain.

The prime minister's official spokesman sought to play down any suggestion of a cabinet rift over what is one of the coalition's flagship policies.

Asked whether Mr Cable would be given a dressing-down for his comments, he said the business secretary had "raised the concerns of business and the government was aware of those concerns"

[. . .] The cap on non-EU immigration was a Conservative Party manifesto commitment but was opposed by the Liberal Democrats before the coalition government was formed. [. . .]".

So what is going on? There are at least a few different possible scenarios:

1. Cable is trying to differentiate Liberal Democrat positions from the Tories within the coalition.

The Liberal Democrats have come under heavy criticism that too much of the policies emerging from the Government (of which they are a partner) are much closer to the Conservative Party manifesto than their own manifesto. They've become the public relations department for a formerly bitterly opposed party, one might argue. This differentiation may prove helpful ahead of the forthcoming Liberal Democrat confernece.

2. Cable is trying to send out a signal that the cap should not be too low.

In offering public pronouncements like this, perhaps he is merely attempting to make us nervous so that any forthcoming cap won't be too low and actually damage British business interests.

3. Cable is correct.

The final scenario is that Cable is just being honest. Don't laugh. Politicians may say words which the public may find suspect, but Cable is a different kind of politician.

So which is it?

Those who want the coalition to succeed may hope it's (2) as this will show no true rift. Eagle-eyed commentators may be concerned if it's (1) because this will show the Liberal Democrats are becoming increasingly worried about satisfying their base (as I believe they should worry). The danger for the coalition may be (3) where Conservative platforms defeat Liberal Democrat platforms yet again.

My verdict? A combination of all three.

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