The cycle continues.
You can't really blame people for being cynical though when it's become clear just what the government was up to in suddenly announcing yet another benefits crackdown for those supposedly coming here just to leech off our fantastically generous welfare state. Rather than net migration falling towards the desired tens of thousands, as Cameron and pals pledged, it instead went up in the year to June 2013, rising by 15,000 to 182,000, mainly thanks to a fall in emigration. Considering Dave has been chastised in the past for apparently pre-empting releases by the Office of National Statistics, it's not that big a stretch to think this might be another example of the coalition acting on information only it has seen.
We are then once again seeing the destruction wrought by the immigration monster. No amount of facts or pleading can stop the tabloids from claiming come the 1st of January Bulgaria and Romania are going to empty out, the whole population of the two countries upping sticks and coming to sponge off our soft touch welfare system. It doesn't matter how many Bulgarian ambassadors we hear from who point out that most applications for work permits are already accepted, and that it was 2007 when the two countries actually joined the EU that the largest number decided to start a new life in the UK, clearly the migrant horde is going to be snaking its way through Dover on New Year's Day. Nor does it have it any impact pointing out that unlike in 2004, when the citizens of the accession 8 states had only ourselves, Ireland and Sweden to choose should they want to look for work elsewhere, this time all the states that haven't yet allowed free movement have to open their borders. Why would Romanians and Bulgarians come here rather than chance their arm in Germany, say, or somewhere slightly more receptive?
It perhaps does bear repeating that we aren't the only country where sentiment against immigration has turned decisively. There is also a certain amount of truth in the government claiming that the Germans and French are taking action themselves ahead of January 1st, although again this seems mainly in an attempt to placate public opinion rather than out of there being any hard evidence of benefit tourism. Putting further restrictions on when migrants can gain access to certain benefits only encourages rather than refutes the narrative that migrants aren't here to work. Indeed, Cameron didn't so much as attempt to argue that the concern might be misplaced, instead yet again blaming Labour for getting it wrong in 2005. The opposition meanwhile continues to up the rhetoric, criticising the government for "panicking" at the last minute, while former ministers dig themselves further into the mire by continuously apologising for the mistake they made in thinking other countries would be opening their borders in 05 as well. The estimate now ritually criticised was made on that assumption, which was why it was so out of line with the reality.
The latest immigration figures in fact suggest politicians are fighting the last battle; rather than it being workers from eastern Europe making the journey, there have been large increases in those arriving from the countries hardest hit by the crash. Free movement of labour goes both ways: wanting to put an end to it might please the UKIP tendency the Conservatives are still trying to win back, but it isn't going to appeal much to businesses who are already complaining about the government's approach.
Such has been the shift from defending immigration or singing its praises to saying it must now cease while not being able to do much about it, combined with the lack of political will to confront the hysteria from the tabloids, we've reached the point where the public doesn't believe any of it. More to the point, only a fifth were able to pick out the "tens of thousands" pledge as being government policy. Why not then be brutally honest with everyone: whether we remain in the EU or not, freedom of movement is highly unlikely to go away when the economic benefits are fairly well established. We could raise the drawbridge entirely, like say Israel or Australia, but is that the type of country we want to become? Acceptance of migrants excepting the unskilled is in fact fairly high. Besides, regardless of whether most know the tens of thousands pledge now, they will come 2015 when UKIP and Labour will doubtless make great play of the coalition's failure. Only then might it occur to some of our politicians to break out of this self-defeating cycle.