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Back in 2014 Nigel Farage stated that, even with the economic arguments for immigration proven, he was against it on cultural grounds. Being “slightly richer” as a country was not worth it if the price to be paid was the sound of foreign languages on public transport. The then Ukip leader added: “I would rather have a situation where young unemployed British people had a realistic chance of getting a job.”

Farage always sat at odds with many Conservative traditions, especially with the economic pragmatism and sense of fairness which one-nation Tories tend to pride themselves on. And he made it clear that many of the right’s preferred policy methods – trade, commerce and efforts to ‘grow the pie’ – were not Ukip’s levers of choice.

But today’s ‘levelling up’ agenda can only succeed with 21st century ‘one-nationism’. The desire to fix regional inequality represents an acknowledgement from the government that economics matters. Whilst the agenda is yet to be fleshed out, levelling up can’t happen without the promotion of growth and enterprise – it is the only way to reshape the economic gravity in poorer towns.

Our new report Level Best attempted to understand how places and communities change as they level up by analysing all the local authorities in England and Wales outside of the big cities to see how they fared after the economic crash of 2008.

Across 285 local authorities, we analysed five economic metrics (growth, house prices, employment, deprivation and pay), and seven measures of demographic change (ranging from ethnic diversity to the number of births to non-UK mothers).

The findings were stark. Across all seven demographic measures, as places that got more diverse, growth increased. Likewise with house prices. And there is a similar picture – although slightly less pronounced – when it comes to deprivation reduction, employment rises and salary increases.

For instance, where there was an increase of 5+ percentage points in births to non-UK mothers, the growth per head between 2011 and 2019 was £6,727. By contrast, it was £3,985 per head in areas where this figure fell.

Authorities where employment rose by over 6 points in the 2010s also saw their non-British populations rise by 2.3 percentage points, on average. In council areas where employment rose by less than 2 points, by contrast, the average non-British increase was just 0.24 percentage points.

These findings are a rebuff to the idea that immigration brings an area down or that metropoleis like London have been the chief beneficiaries of diversity and migration.

Corby in Northamptonshire, for instance – population 66,000 – saw growth per head rise by £11,371 between 2011 and 2019. This was a period when the town’s non-UK born population increased by 7 percentage points.

The truth is that people tend to move to areas where there are jobs and opportunities. The places that recovered best post-2011 attracted individuals from across the country and around the world. They found that migration and population change were part and parcel of growth; that being networked meant newcomers arriving. 

The Nigel Farage idea that every migrant means one more unemployed Brit is fundamentally at odds with economic sense – as our report shows. So too is the idea that cultural diversity is automatically harmful to a place. Inflows of people are an inevitable aspect of any community prospering – including ensuring poorer places level up.

One-nation conservatives who accept this must argue against the Farageist rhetoric and the controversial policies of the ‘hostile environment’ era, and think about how investing in cohesion can play a bigger role in the drive to level up.

Chris Clarke is a Policy Researcher at Hope not Hate and the author of Level Best. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Chmee2]