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In October 2009 Neather wrote an article for the London Evening Standard entitled "Don't listen to the whingers - London needs immigrants". In this piece he argued that immigration to Britain has a positive effect, but politicians have done a poor job of expressing this. "What's missing is not only a sense of the benefits of immigration but also of where it came from", he said; "the deliberate policy of ministers from late 2000 until at least February last year, when the Government introduced a points-based system, was to open up the UK to mass migration."
"I wrote the landmark speech given by then immigration minister Barbara Roche in September 2000, calling for a loosening of controls... That speech was based largely on a report by the Performance and Innovation Unit", continued Neather. "The PIU's reports were legendarily tedious within Whitehall but their big immigration report was surrounded by an unusual air of both anticipation and secrecy... Eventually published in January 2001, [it] focused heavily on the labour market case."
"But the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural", he went on to write. "I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended - even if this wasn't its main purpose - to rub the Right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. That seemed to me to be a manoeuvre too far. Ministers were very nervous about the whole thing."
He concluded that "there was a reluctance elsewhere in government to discuss what increased immigration would mean, above all for Labour's core white working-class vote. This shone through even in the published report: the 'social outcomes' it talks about are solely those for immigrants."
This article caused a storm in parts of the British press, with lines in particular being leapt upon. The same day, the Telegraph published an editorial which summerised Neather's comments as follows:
The huge increases in migrants over the last decade were partly due to a politically motivated attempt by ministers to radically change the country and "rub the Right's nose in diversity", according to Andrew Neather, a former adviser to Tony Blair, Jack Straw and David Blunkett. He said Labour's relaxation of controls was a deliberate plan to "open up the UK to mass migration" but that ministers were nervous and reluctant to discuss such a move publicly for fear it would alienate its "core working class vote".
Much attention was placed on Neather's statement that "I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended - even if this wasn't its main purpose - to rub the Right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date". Damian Green, Conservative immigration spokesman commented that "If this is true, then it would be a disgracefully irresponsible way for a government to run their immigration policy. To organise it on the basis of what might embarrass the Opposition would be shameful."
Melanie Phillips took Neather's comments as evidence that Labour's immigration policy "was done to destroy for ever what it means to be culturally British and to put another 'multicultural' identity in its place. And it was done without telling or asking the British people whether they wanted their country and their culture to be transformed in this way." Taking Neather's comment about nose-rubbing somewhat out of context, Phillips went on to write that "Spitefully, one motivation by Labour ministers was 'to rub the Right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date'."
Neather objected to this exaggeration of his comments. "Multiculturalism was not the primary point of the report or the speech", he clarified in a follow-up published three days after his original article. "The main goal was to allow in more migrant workers at a point when - hard as it is to imagine now - the booming economy was running up against skills shortages. But my sense from several discussions was there was also a subsidiary political purpose to it - boosting diversity and undermining the Right's opposition to multiculturalism."
"Somehow this has become distorted by excitable Right-wing newspaper columnists into being a 'plot' to make Britain multicultural", he said. "There was no plot. I've worked closely with [Barbara] Roche and Jack Straw and they are both decent, honourable people whom I respect (not something I'd say for many politicians)."
"The Right see plots everywhere and will hyperventilate at the drop of a chapati", he concluded. "The Left, however, will immediately accuse anyone who raises immigration as an issue as 'playing the race card' - as the Government has on several occasions over the past decade. Both sides need to grow up."