March 7: The benefits of immigration and a repudiation of Ukip rhetoric

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LIKE IT or not, Nigel Farage is ensuring that immigration is one of the pivotal issues of the election campaign – his demand in last Thursday’s seven-way leaders’ debate that foreigners should not receive free treatment for HIV on the National Health Service continues to polarise public opinion.

However the fact that half of all voters, according to one poll, agree with this sentiment shows the extent to which the electorate is still resentful of the fact that past and present governments did not do enough to control migration from the European Union and also further afield.

It is clear that this failure of political leadership is serving to breed resentment and preventing people from appreciating the benefits of immigration to the wider UK economy. As the University of Sheffield’s vice-chancellor Sir Keith Burnett makes clear on the opposite page, he is proud of his institution’s burgeoning relationship with students from China. His argument is this: the Chinese have much to learn from Britain as the world’s second largest economy looks to reduce its carbon emissions, while this country can only benefit from China’s gifted new generation of scientists and engineers whose outlook is far more global than their forebears.

Coincidentally, Sir Keith’s comments come on the day that the Adam Smith Institute claimed that greater ethnic diversity in the UK has not had a negative impact on community cohesion. This refutes Mr Farage’s alarmist assertion that children can no longer play football in the streets of some towns because of concerns about immigration. The think-tank also takes Ukip to task for claiming that migrant workers are taking the jobs of people born in Britain; it says immigrants contribute more to Britain’s debt-laden finances than they take out in benefits.

It is a compelling argument which should be heard before any post-election caps or quotas have a counter-productive effect on the economy. The problem for the country’s political elite is that they find themselves in the unenviable position where Mr Farage’s party is making all the running on this issue.

£7bn and counting: Ed Balls in cost warning to SNP

EVEN OPPONENTS of Ed Balls will concur with the Shadow Chancellor when he highlights the size of the bill if the next government accedes to the devolution demands of the Scottish Nationalists. He estimates this to be £7bn – and this was before the SNP’s leader Nicola Sturgeon said there should not be any further rises to the state pension age north of the border while life expectancy of Scots lags behind the rest of the UK and Europe.

Yet, while Labour will not say so publicly as the party launches its own devolution policies, this could be the price that the party has to pay for Ed Miliband to secure the keys to 10 Downing Street.

On current polling evidence, it looks easier for parties on the political left to secure the 325-seats that are required to form a government of sorts – the Tories and Lib Dems still have their work cut out to achieve this magic number.

As for this region, it is significant that Mr Balls intends to give Leeds and Sheffield greater powers to retain the business rates paid by new enterprises in the respective city-regions.

Though George Osborne has granted this right to Manchester, leaders in South and West Yorkshire were denied this source of funding because of their continued opposition to the imposition of elected mayors.

However, as the economic argument intensifies at the start of a new tax year, Mr Balls still has two key questions to answer. Will his tax and spend approach avoid a repeat of the costly mistakes made by the last Labour government – and will his plans for the North be signed off by Ms Sturgeon whose agenda threatens to fragment the UK still further?

The ‘selfie snaps’ - Harry takes a stand over deference

THREE CHEERS to Prince Harry for gently chiding a teenage admirer who wanted a self-portrait with the fourth in line to the throne as he arrived in Australia for Army training. “Seriously, you need to get out of it. I know you’re young, but selfies are bad,” he advised his eager fan as he met dozens of enthusiastic wellwishers.

Yet, while Harry dealt with the situation with aplomb in the easy-going style which has become his hallmark, he does have a point. When leaders like the Queen and Pope Francis are not immune from the “selfie” craze, it can only be hoped that the over-zealous enthusiasm of some does not stand in the way of future public appearances.

Deference does still matter, even if David Cameron briefly forgot this at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.