Official figures to be published on Thursday will confirm that foreign immigration under Labour added more than three million to our population.
At the same time nearly one million British citizens voted with their feet, some saying that they were leaving because England was no longer a country that they recognised.
How could all this have happened in the teeth of public opposition? Even the Labour government’s own survey last February showed that 77 per cent of the public wanted immigration reduced, including 54 per cent of the ethnic communities, while 50 per cent of the public wanted it reduced ‘by a lot’.
There are, of course, good arguments for controlled and limited immigration. Migration in both directions is a natural part of an open economy. And there are many immigrants who are valuable both to our economy and our society.
Mass immigration is an entirely different matter. The question now is how did it happen and what can be done about it. Was it all a Labour conspiracy? Was it sheer incompetence in government? Or was it wholesale retreat in front of the race relations lobby?
The strongest evidence for conspiracy comes from one of Labour’s own. Andrew Neather, a previously unheard-of speechwriter for Blair, Straw and Blunkett, popped up with an article in the Evening Standard in October 2009 which gave the game away.
Immigration, he wrote, ‘didn’t just happen; the deliberate policy of Ministers from late 2000…was to open up the UK to mass immigration’.
He was at the heart of policy in September 2001, drafting the landmark speech by the then Immigration Minister Barbara Roche, and he reported ‘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was intended - even if this wasn’t its main purpose - to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date’.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, even to him, a manoeuvre too far.
The result is now plain for all to see. Even Blair’s favourite think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), commented recently: ‘It is no exaggeration to say that immigration under New Labour has changed the face of the country.’
It is not hard to see why Labour’s own apparatchiks supported the policy. Provided that the white working class didn’t cotton on, there were votes in it.
Research into voting patterns conducted for the Electoral Commission after the 2005 general election found that 80 per cent of Caribbean and African voters had voted Labour, while only about 3 per cent had voted Conservative and roughly 8 per cent for the Liberal Democrats.
The Asian vote was split about 50 per cent for Labour, 10 per cent Conservatives and 15 per cent Liberal Democrats.
Nor should we underestimate the power of ‘community leaders’ who have strong influence in constituency Labour parties and who, of course, benefit from a growth in numbers.
Other activists, nurtured in the anti-apartheid movement of the last century, had no difficulty promoting the interests of minority groups — almost, it seems, regardless of the impact on the white working class.
There were also economic factors. A collection of essays published recently by the IPPR underlined the role of Gordon Brown’s Treasury in this affair. A high level of immigration made economic growth look better and helped keep wages and, therefore, inflation down.
Others, too, saw economic benefits for themselves. The employers’ organisations kept their heads down, but there is little doubt that they were privately encouraging a supply of cheap labour which was good for profits, whatever its impact on society.
Then there were those members of the middle classes who found it convenient to have cheap exotic restaurants and even cheaper domestic help, but were blind to the wider consequences of this population inflow which were, of course, felt in the poorer neighbourhoods.
Another major factor was the attitude of the BBC and, in particular, its devotion to multiculturalism. For years it avoided discussing immigration if it possibly could.
Although in the autumn of 2005 official statistics for the previous year showed an increase of 50 per cent in net immigration, there was no mention of this on the BBC. Its own report into impartiality, published in June 2007, concluded that its coverage of immigration amounted to bias by omission.
Last December the corporation’s director-general admitted: ‘There are some areas, immigration, business and Europe, where the BBC has historically been rather weak and rather nervous about letting that entire debate happen.’ Indeed so.
The overall effect was to deter any serious discussion of immigration and to give plenty of space to the Left to accuse anyone who raised the subject of being a covert racist. On this matter the BBC failed to meet its own standards of objectivity.
How about Labour’s competence in government? A succession of six home secretaries and eight ministers of immigration was a testament to their utter failure to focus on a subject of crucial importance to Britain’s future.
Labour ministers had no sooner grasped the elements of the problem than they were moved to a new post. Government policy was that immigration was good for the economy, so why make difficulties about it?
The first Labour Home Secretary even to inquire about the numbers was Jacqui Smith. But she, too, was gone in the twinkling of an eye.
The reality is there was no government focus on the scale of immigration and no serious effort made to reduce it.
In the end, Labour paid the price.
Anger over mass immigration was a major reason why so many of Labour’s working-class supporters did not vote at the last election.
They were not alone in their verdict. An intriguing opinion survey found that, when the public were asked what they regarded as the greatest failures of Tony Blair’s time as Prime Minister, 62 per cent pointed to the fact that immigration had reached unacceptable levels — even more than the 56 per cent who chose the invasion of Iraq.
Blair himself shows no remorse. His memoirs, which run to 690 pages, contain only one page on immigration.
The reference describes his strategy for handling the policy at the 2005 election, saying: ‘Because our position was sophisticated enough - a sort of “confess and avoid”, as the lawyers say - we won out.’
If Blair thinks his immigration policy was a success, he is almost alone.
So, what about the future? What can be done?
The current government has taken one vital step. It has established an overall target range for immigration policy — to get net immigration down to tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament.
It is looking at the issue of work permits and dependants, seeing what can be done to tighten up numbers.
It has also made a start on economic migration and is ready to address the issue of foreign students, marriage and false asylum claimants which are the other main elements of immigration.
This will be uphill work, and the Liberal Democrat partners in the Coalition can be expected to make difficulties (so it will be essential to remain vigilant).
Nevertheless, Home Office ministers are showing some determination — and the official machine is at last responding to the overwhelming and democratically expressed wish of the British public.
Sir Andrew Green is a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green