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There goes the neighbourhood

The immigration issue is sure to make an appearance at tonight’s debate, which will be liveblogged here by Arun Marsh, and also tweeted (from @demsoc) by the same august personage.

One of the least appealing parts of the immigration “debate”, at least as it’s handled in Britain, is that it’s based on two fundamental lies. There is a lot more nonsense talked about immigration, of course, but these two are the big obvious falsehoods.

The first is the media’s lie that “the British people aren’t allowed to talk about immigration”. A brief perusal of the Daily Express and the Daily Mail, particularly in the run-up to this election, will remind you that they talk about little else, and yet somehow avoid the Thought Police beating down their door.

This is insidious because it pretends that the papers will tell the Truth, while the Government will ignore the Truth (even if the Truth includes episodes like the Daily Mail asking someone to bring a Polish-registered car to England so they could photograph it committing driving offences). It is also, not coincidentally, one of the main tropes of the BNP and UKIP, designed as with the press to portray them as battlers for freedom, rather than battlers for depriving others of freedom.

The second lie is the politicians’, which is that they can do something about it without bigger consequences. All the tough policies and points-based systems in the world have to come up against the fact that the EU mandates freedom of movement for its citizens – as Brits living in Spain will attest. Aside from EU immigration,┬áthe number of people likely to be caught by an immigration cap or points system is pretty small.

Perhaps it’s good for the politicians to pretend that “something is being done”, in the interests of calming down a hysterical, ill-informed and frequently offensive public “debate”. But on the other hand, it hasn’t worked so far. Might it not be better to be more honest, admit the truth of immigration, and make the positive case for immigration (and the EU membership that causes it)?

It’s what Nick Clegg has been trying to do, and it’s hardly poleaxed his opinion ratings. A survey for the Economist this week showed that on a range of domestic issues, people changed their opinions when the consequences of their instant reaction were pointed out to them. We should not be asking “do you approve of restricting immigration?”, we should be asking “do you approve of restricting immigration, even though it means Britons will be less able to travel, live and do business abroad?”.

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