The contradictions of Tory ideology: immigration and red tape

In the past few weeks, I moved house for the first time since 2012 and registered as a university student for the first time since 2007. Both were significantly more painful processes than the last time round. In both cases, this was in large part down to Theresa May’s immigration regulations, which are set to become tougher still, if this week’s Conservative party conference is any indication.

As Home Secretary, May essentially co-opted landlords and universities to be part of the border force. It became an offence to rent a property to somebody without checking their credentials to reside in the UK. Universities have become ever more severe in their checks on students’ status.

As a result, I could not receive the keys to my new house without going to the estate agent in person to show them my passport – a requirement complicated by the fact I was moving city from London to Kent. The net effect was that my move took two days instead of one, and an extra journey back and forth. Between train tickets and a surcharge for having to move on a weekend the extra financial cost was over £100 (compare with the £25 most people were unwilling to pay for Brexit). The contrast from my last move, from Scotland to London, could not be greater: that time, everything was sorted in a single journey, and I could collect my keys on the day I arrived in London for good.

The impact on university registration is more a matter of time and inconvenience. I can barely remember registering in 2007: I think it took a matter of minutes. This time round, I had to queue for an hour and a half – taking an afternoon off work – again, to get my passport checked.

The Tories have a phrase they like to use for these sorts of niggles: red tape. The point about red tape is not that it imposes particularly big costs, or that it is in itself enough to put you off whatever you wanted to do. I know that I am right at the bottom of the list of people who ought to have a grievance with May’s immigration policy. Rather, red tape has a cumulative effect to the point where complying with the various state regulations grinds you down and makes you not want to bother.

Much has been written about the Conservative party’s cognitive dissonance on immigration – for example, Chris Dillow’s admirable calling out of the contradiction between restricting free movement and valorising social mobility. Yet the expansion of petty bureaucracy accompanying harsher immigration policies gets less notice than it should – it is the sort of things Conservatives are means to be dead against, and yet here they are promoting it in the service of appearing tough on migrants.

This is the party of ‘get on your bike’, making it more expensive and complicated to move. The party of ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’ adding  to the paperwork of getting a degree. A party that doesn’t seem even to see its ideological compromises, let alone consider whether they are justified


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