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Aspects of the New Commonwealth immigration question and its impacts: a study in policy making and elite politics, 1968-1981

Nolan, Mark Robert


Mark Robert Nolan


Alan G. V. Simmonds

Peter, 1968 Grieder


[Author's synopsis]:
This thesis offers an analysis of policy making on aspects of the New Commonwealth immigration issue in Britain between 1968 and 1981. It concerns three formally distinct but profoundly interlocking issues: immigration control itself, the development of race relations policy and the pursuit of nationality law reform.

I argue that a populist critique of prevailing bipartisanship on the subject grew up around the notion that immigration policy, and the notion of multiracial Britain itself, was subject to a profound shortfall in political legitimacy. These arguments were introduced by Enoch Powell in 1968, but remained too controversially wedded to race issues to achieve purchase in the mainstream. A limited form of bipartisanship therefore survived this early assault, to be rephrased by Edward Heath as a managerial compromise that sought to accept stronger immigration controls (and, significantly, the reform of nationality law), justifiable in the national interest, and to remove the issues from the political sphere through strong administration and wide governmental discretion.

This compromise was subsequently weakened by threats to the governing competence that underlay it in the form of problems in the control system highlighted by officials (some of which became public knowledge), the possibility of a deterioration in race relations and an increase in immigration perceived to originate in policy defects and a more liberal management of entry by the Labour government.

These perceived failures permitted a restatement of the political legitimacy critique by individuals within the Conservative Party. In seeking to repudiate ideas of 'consensus' more broadly, the party under Margaret Thatcher's leadership reincorporated the populist idea that high minded and elitist bipartisanship was a failed form of governance, emphasising the redress of putatively valid public grievances through a strengthened system of immigration control, designed to cure systematic weaknesses in regulating what had become largely secondary (family) migration, and through the realisation of the 1981 British Nationality Act, intended to close off the period of post-colonial migration.


Nolan, M. R. (2013). Aspects of the New Commonwealth immigration question and its impacts: a study in policy making and elite politics, 1968-1981. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Nov 26, 2014
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords History
Public URL
Additional Information Department of History, The University of Hull
Award Date Mar 1, 2013


Thesis (5.8 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2013 Nolan, Mark Robert. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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