Talking About Migration

There are many things that politicians do not want to discuss, and it is entirely appropriate if a Government minister refuses to confirm if he or she sports a tattoo of Captain Morgan sacking Panama dating back to a gap-year adventure in 1969.

But there are other subjects which are only picked up by crusading backbenchers or ex-ministers who stand little chance of returning to power.

Avuncular former defence minister Bob Ainsworth made headlines with his call for the legalisation of drugs, which is not something a fresh-faced MP who is consumed with sulphuric ambition would do in a hurry.

But a politician who wants to fight the winter chill by picking up a hot potato could look at a United Nations convention that was introduced 20 years ago today but which has been neither signed nor ratified by any western country.

No mainstream party is likely to put out a pre-election pledge card committing a future Government to ratifying the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

But, regardless of the merits of the document, a politician who actually wants to ensure that the UK is a healthier and more prosperous society in the future would do well to do some serious thinking over Christmas about the revolution in how and where people work.

Around 190 million people, or 3% of the world’s population, are migrant workers. These include bright graduates who are sitting at desks in Wall St and the cleaners who are at work in the corridors.

The free-movement of capital has been responsible for explosions of economic opportunity and chaos on every continent in recent decades. The absence of commons sense regulation nearly decimated the world’s financial system in 2008.

Our so-called global community is even less prepared to meet the mounting challenge of the movement of labour. One of the most basic consequences of climate change is that large numbers of people are likely to find their homelands are no longer habitable.

If the only people who talk about immigration are those fixated by the idea of a mono-cultural nation state the debate will be shaped by pessimism and fear and the potential for serious social strife will grow by the year.

But population movements have defined human history and the idea that we have existed in static communities for centuries is balderdash. Furthermore, with an ageing population and a shortage of skilled workers an injection of talent could reinvigorate Britain.

But when no European countries wants to touch a convention that tries to protect basic human rights for migrant workers the chances of a mature conversation seem slim.

A Saturday column