It was a missed opportunity. After all the furore of ‘Gordon Brown meets a voter’ last Wednesday, Nick Clegg knew he’d be quizzed on immigration on Thursday night. Here is part of the speech I wanted to hear:
‘You, the British people, have demonstrated over the years how generous and hospitable you have been in welcoming people into this country. And that generosity has been rewarded by a culture of richness and diversity. For example, just think of the doctors from South Asia who have filled gaps in our national health service with commitment, dedication and skill- many departments would have been on their knees without them. And yet, there is a problem. There are people here who are unregistered, working in the black economy, often the victims of human trafficking who are unable to make their proper contribution to UK society as they fall prey to criminal gangs. It is time we allowed those who want to step up to the plate and pay their way to do just that: if they have been here for ten years and speak English, surely it is better for them and better for everyone that they are recognised and pay for the services we all depend upon. This is no open-ended amnesty, we agree that there must be criteria for future immigration to limit the numbers arriving but simply burying our heads in the sand about those already here is no solution at all.’
Instead, under pressure, he went all defensive rather than seizing the initiative. And in criticising Mr Clegg, I’m implicitly criticising them all. I’ve received a few questions around the country summarised by: ‘What is the Christian policy on immigration?’ Of course, there are a variety of views. But I always emphasise the Old Testament injunctions to provide a haven for the alien and the foreigner. The generosity of God’s grace means we cannot ignore the well-being of others. Naturally there are implications on our natural resources (especially given the rate of youth unemployment) that mean we cannot allow everybody to come and go as they please. But we do not have the option to ignore the suffering and misery of our neighbours. Mr Clegg: if this is your policy, believe it and communicate it with all the passion and conviction at your disposal. Mr Brown and Mr Cameron: don’t appeal to people’s worst instincts dictated by worry and fear. A healthy debate is what we need. Come on church, where’s your voice?