Mr. Cameron accused Labour of talking tough on immigration whilst doing nothing to bring the numbers down.
The PM said: "This approach had damaging consequences in terms of controlling immigration, but also in terms of public debate. It created the space for extremist parties to flourish, as they could tell people that mainstream politicians weren't listening to their concerns or doing anything about them."
Warming to his theme he adds that, "Migrants are filling gaps in the labour market left wide open by a welfare system that for years has paid British people not to work. That is where the blame lies – at the door of our woeful welfare system and the last government who comprehensively failed to reform it."
He stated that the Government's plans would cut immigration numbers substantially.
"We said we would listen to people's concerns and get immigration under control. Today I can confidently say we are getting there. If we take the steps set out today, and deal with all the different avenues of migration, legal and illegal, then levels of immigration can return to where they were in the 1980s and 90s, a time when immigration was not a front-rank political issue. And I believe that will mean net migration to this country will be in the order of tens of thousands each year, not the hundreds of thousands every year that we have seen over the last decade."
Further he controversially added that some immigrant communities are refusing to integrate into British society.
Communities had been affected by incomers unable to speak English and unwilling to integrate, he argued, which had "created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighborhoods".
This speech the second by the PM on immigration and multiculturalism in as many months was immediately challenged by the Coalition Business Secretary Vince Cable.
The Lib Dem Business Secretary, was speaking in Manchester following the Prime Minister's speech on mass immigration which Mr. Cable had said was “very unwise” suggesting they could fuel extremism over immigration.
“The reference to the tens of thousands of immigrants rather than hundreds of thousands is not part of the coalition agreement, it is Tory party policy only,” Mr. Cable said to the BBC before Mr. Cameron’s speech.
Liberal Democrats supported an amnesty for illegal asylum seekers in the last election and this policy still enjoys support from large section of the party. However, there are those who think that this manufactured descent has more to do with forthcoming elections and political positioning ahead of local elections.
Recent government cuts to English classes have further undermined the Prime Minister credibility on this issue as at the same time as calling for immigrant communities to learn English the Government was cutting funding for such classes.
The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace) has warned the cuts could have a devastating impact on students, including refugees and women who are trying to integrate into British society by improving their language skills.
University and College Union General Secretary Sally Hunt , said: “We believe community cohesion is a central plank of building a fairer and more equitable Britain. David Cameron's talk of 'good immigration' is unlikely to help matters and his criticism of immigrants not learning English as his Government prices thousands out of English classes is somewhat confused to say the least."
Whilst the PM acknowledged the positive contribution of immigration to the UK he failed to mention the huge financial gain to the UK of immigrant labour. Immigrants contribute over £8 billion pounds annually to the UK economy.
The PM was further embarrassed by a recent Treasury report obtained by the BBC that expresses concern that unnecessary restriction on immigration could harm the UK economy.
There are genuine fears that the PM is politically exploiting this issue to attract voters to the Tory and Liberal Democrat causes ahead of the 5th May local elections. Portraying the Tories as tough on immigration and Lib Dems as much more liberal on these matters serves both parties well ahead of local elections.
The PM speech event attracted criticism from the extreme right. A Simon Darby, spokesman for the extreme right wing and racist BNP party charged the PM with stealing its policies. He told the BBC’s Today programme: “It’s cynical opportunism, isn’t it? It’s almost like a ceremonial adoption of our policy about two weeks before any major vote.
In other words, he knows what ordinary British people are thinking. He completely ignores that until two weeks before a major poll and then all of a sudden starts pressing a few buttons to try to make people believe he’s actually doing something about immigration.”
Whilst announcing his immigration crackdown the PM and the Government simultaneously this week announced cuts to UK Border Agency resulting on the loss of 5000 jobs over the next few years.
The problem is that such speeches can cause trouble on the streets of the UK. When it comes to issues of race and immigration irresponsible commentary by politicians can cause an increase in racial tension and race hate attacks.
The PM’s speech on immigration was further undermined by a recent published public attitude survey published by the Economist and conducted by Mori. The results show that the public concern about immigration and race issues has fallen right down the list of priority concerns.
Lee Jasper, Co Chair BARAC.
|The Lib Dem Business Secretary, Vince Cable|
First published in OBV - The Home of Black Politics