Byline: Liam Byrne
Changing patterns of immigration are one of the big challenges that globalisation brings. Like the restructuring of economies, or the challenges from new alliances of terrorists and failed states, it is a change the centre-left has to manage with a tough-minded fairness - or lose office.
In Britain, there is a critique which claims the rise in public concern about immigration is purely media driven. It is true we do not have to look far for the evidence.
Until 2004, some of Britain's media urged upon the nation in something akin to a moral panic centred almost entirely on asylum.
Stories abounded about numbers, benefit claimants "sponging off the state", clandestine entry, a poor system for deporting those whose claims failed, and weakened social cohesion.
The only problem with the "it's all the media" thesis is that it is not quite true. During the 1990s, the UK did change from being a country of net emigration to one of net immigration - 2.4 million people left Britain and 3.4 million came in. With that change came enormous economic benefits.
Migrants make up eight per cent of the UK workforce, but contribute 10 per cent of our GDP. The Treasury says that from 2001 to 2005, migration contributed to around 15 to 20 per cent of the UK's trend growth.
The step-change in public concern about immigration has been one of the most dramatic aspects of the changing political agenda since Labour came to power. Back in 1997 the EU, unemployment, education and the NHS led the list of issues that voters said were vital.
Ten years on, the issue list looks different. Health and education remain on the radar.
But crime, race relations and defence have rocketed up the table. Ten years ago, Labour's manifesto devoted 135 words to immigration and less than 10 per cent of the population named immigration as the biggest issue in British politics.
Today, 40 per cent rate immigration as their top concern, and in poll after poll during 2005, immigration was either the number one, or number two issue.
The other side of the story: the benefits of immigration.
While addressing these concerns is imperative, highlighting the benefits of immigration is equally important. Since the days of Crosland and before, the left has understood that progressive politics is hard work without growth. So we have argued migration is good for Britain, not just for the boost to the national bank balance, but because of the obligations we have to offer safe haven to those in danger, and for the diversity and pluralism that migration brings.
The development, as well as the enforcement, of the right rules - about who can work, study and stay in Britain and what rights are acquired when and what obligations are owed - becomes absolutely central to developing support for migration that is managed.
The idea is simple. We want a more open debate about what immigration is good for Britain that takes into account its wider impact. It is imperative to launch this debate amongst a wide range of actors. In the diversity that comes with a more global society there is a new premium on developing the rules in an open way - and enforcing them visibly. We need new ways to build trust in the way we answer the question; 'what kind of immigration is best for Britain?'.
For lower skilled migration, the debate is about whether we need such migration at all from outside the EU given the recent expansion and if we do, what size quota is appropriate? For higher skilled employment the question is not the ceiling; it's the standards people have to reach to come and work or study in Britain.
There is a need for information on migration issues to be transparent and publicly available.
This would help people understand the decisions we will be making and why, leading to the greater accountability and acceptability of policy. …