AGENDA: Time to Explode Bias for Immigrants Myth; Immigration Is Back at the Top of the Political Agenda. This Is What Trevor Phillips, Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Had to Say on the Subject during His Speech at a Conference in Birmingham Yesterday

The Birmingham Post (England), November 2, 2007 | Go to article overview

AGENDA: Time to Explode Bias for Immigrants Myth; Immigration Is Back at the Top of the Political Agenda. This Is What Trevor Phillips, Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Had to Say on the Subject during His Speech at a Conference in Birmingham Yesterday


Byline: Trevor Phillips: Fairness, equality and the integrated society

Ethnic minority groups are expected to grow from nine per cent to 11 per cent of the British population by end of next decade. But that growth will be different from past decades. We will have more different kinds of people - in 1991 nine census categories seemed excessive; now even the 17 used in 2001 look crude.

Today, one in four British babies has a foreign parent. Latest figures from the ONS tell us population will increase to 65 million by 2015 and 71 million by 2030, largely driven by immigration.

The House of Commons science and technology select committee has said that by 2030 the number could be 83 million. It's worth saying that we have never before hit the estimates - but the trend is clear.

The point is that in a free society we cannot do much about any of this. The question rather is how to deal with the trend.

People know this and have little doubt about its importance. That is why when you ask, the issues that emerge at the top of the public's concerns today are immigration and care for the elderly. It is why you today are rightly registering concern about the effect of migration on your ability to serve your communities. And it is one reason why I welcome the remarks made by the Leader of the Conservative Party earlier this week. about population increase.

Mr Cameron, in summary, argued that population growth, though broadly positive, has to be planned for many decades ahead - a novel defence of socialist planning from a Tory leader. He cited several factors that are leading to new pressures on communities - changes in family life, household formation, higher life expectancy and immigration. Most importantly, his language suggests that he would very much like to deracialise the issue of immigration - to treat it like any other question of political and economic management.

I am not naive about this. Mr Cameron is a politician. He knows that Britain is a country now largely unsympathetic to an immigration policy based largely on racial division. Understandably he wants to drain the issue of immigration of the racial toxicity which it has held for his party for some 40 years. He has a big task.

For most of my lifetime immigration has been code for a racial question - Mr Howard's sly 'Are you thinking what I'm thinking?', Mrs Thatcher's talk of swamping and of course Mr Powell's rivers of blood.

But every journey must begin with a single step, and if this particular Conservative Party leader wants to repudiate that legacy it would be wrong of us not recognise this as a turning point in British politic s, one that could allow us to normalise debate on this vital issue and prevent it standing as a constant threat to community relations.

But to use yet another cliche, one swallow does not make a summer.

In seven months' time parties go to the polls in London and euro elections. Conventional parties will face opposition from outright racists. I know that our Commission will be asked for guidance as the CRE was, and we will gladly try to clarify the law for local authorities who are running elections as to where legitimate political campaigning crosses the line to outright racism.

But we think that in the end the best discipline on these matters must come from political parties themselves. If decent politicians can re sist the temptation to deal with the far right by moving on to their ground between now and May 1st, then the political air of our country next summer will be fresher and sweeter than it has been for a generation. The test of Mr Cameron's - and Mr Brown's and Mr Clegg/Huhne's commitment isn't really what they say but what their troops do.

Having said all that, though Mr Cameron was right to focus on the prosperity that new migrants bring, all our politicians have more to do. Mr Cameron is, I guess, asking the 21st century question about immigration.

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AGENDA: Time to Explode Bias for Immigrants Myth; Immigration Is Back at the Top of the Political Agenda. This Is What Trevor Phillips, Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Had to Say on the Subject during His Speech at a Conference in Birmingham Yesterday
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