David Taylor-Gooby: We can ease fears over immigration by tackling the UK's regional imbalance

Journal columnist David Taylor-Gooby says concerns over migration can be resolved if regions like the North East can compete with London

The Nissan Qashqai in production in Sunderland
The Nissan Qashqai in production in Sunderland

Firstly a Happy New Year. Politically it is going to be an eventful one.

I will not try to call the next election, but what I am worried about is that deals with small parties and a minority government may bring about some bad consequences for our country.

I do not think David Cameron really wants a referendum about Europe because he knows that basically Britain needs to be in Europe. He has been bounced into promising one by sections of his own party and a perceived threat from Ukip.

So he could end up saddled with a result he doesn’t want, which would make life very difficult for him. I am not too bothered about that but what I am bothered about is the effect for the country and the North East in particular.

Most people appreciate that being in the EU is economically beneficial for the North East. Nissan would probably leave if we left the EU. If we left and Scotland opted to join, some businesses could go north of the border. This area has also received considerable grant aid from Europe.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage posing for a picture with a member of the public outside the studios of LBC in central London
Ukip leader Nigel Farage posing for a picture with a member of the public outside the studios of LBC in central London
 

So why the support for Ukip in this area? I do not think their support comes from economic arguments (Mr Farage is usually vague on the subject) but from concerns about immigration. These worries tend to be cultural as much as economic.

Recent events in France have inflamed concerns about extremists. In Germany there have been large demonstrations organised by the Pegida movement, against supposed “Islamification”. Often these concerns are expressed in areas where there are no Muslims or recent immigrants, but it is there.

These cultural minorities have nothing to do with the EU. Muslims in France came from French North Africa, and many Turks were encouraged to migrate to Germany in the fifties and sixties to help a growing economy.

I do not think these countries have integrated their ethnic minorities very well. The minorities are still much worse off economically than the majority white population. We seem to have been much better at it in this country.

Ukip, thankfully, is not a racist party, despite having some rather odd members. It plays on concerns about migration from the EU, and these need to be addressed. Migration takes place for two reasons, either “push”, people have to leave because of persecution or war, or “pull” – people see better opportunities elsewhere. The second reason is also why many bright people leave the North East.

People who are “pushed” and can leave are usually those with the money and the wherewithal to do it. They tend to be better qualified and often benefit the economy where they end up.

Our society benefited because of the expulsion of talented Jews and other intellectuals from Germany before the war.

“Pull” is more difficult to deal with. There is a need for labour in London, so people try to go there.

I spoke to a Romanian electrician last week who simply said he could find plenty of work in London, but little in Romania, so he brought his family here. He was not putting anyone else out of work.

Yui Mok/PA Wire An NHS logo
An NHS logo
 

Similarly the NHS loses good staff because of better pay and conditions in Canada and Australia. This migration of hard-working and talented people has the same effect in Romania as out migration does in the North East. It weakens both economies.

Trying to stop it by leaving the EU would have very bad economic consequences, and so long as the demand was there people would try and get to London.

There is something we can do though. Even up the economic balance between London and the other regions.

London would not attract immigrants in such numbers, and more people would be able to stay and work in the North East. Restoring and strengthening the regional development agencies should be top of the next Labour government’s agenda. The same principles should be applied at a European level too.

Strengthening the policies to help the less well-off areas would enable them to buy more of our goods and discourage migration here. That would be a positive attitude to Europe.

David Taylor-Gooby is a freelance writer. He is working on a book about the future of the NHS.

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