Elites and the ‘organised public’: Who drives British immigration politics and in which direction?

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Series Details Vol.29, No.2, March 2006, p248-269
Publication Date March 2006
ISSN 0140-2382
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This article examines the role of the ‘organised public’, collective action by interest groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), in British immigration politics. The impact of the ‘organised public’ on policy outcomes has been a subject for theoretical speculation, especially by Gary Freeman. Here the authors test some of Freeman's assumptions regarding what political mechanisms could account for what he sees as a persistent ‘gap’ between expansionist policies and restrictive public opinion through recourse to original empirical evidence. Their findings largely go against Freeman's predictions. Immigration is an elite-led highly institutionalised field with a relatively weak level of civil society engagement. Elites dominate the field and hold a decisively restrictionist stance. This points toward an explanation where the direction of immigration policies is not an outcome of an organised pro-migrant lobby winning over a resource-weak diffuse anti-migrant lobby, as Freeman suggests, but determined in a relatively autonomous way by political elites.

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