Sir Roger Jowell Memorial Lecture 2023

This annual event is organised by City, University of London, National Centre for Social Research and the Social Research Association.
  • Event time:
    2nd November 2023 18:30 – 19:45
  • Event address:
    City University, B200 University Building, Northampton Square, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0HB
  • Format:

Are attitudes to immigration changing and does this matter?

Immigration has been one of the defining political issues of recent decades. It raises fundamental questions: Who should be allowed to settle and on what terms? Is immigration an opportunity or a threat? How does the movement of millions across borders change our society and how should we manage the effects of this?

These are questions which deeply divide citizens and can reshape politics. But views on immigration are not fixed - they shift in response to both long run changes in the demographic landscape and shorter run shifts in the political conversation.

The long running social surveys which Roger Jowell played a central role in establishing and running - the British Social Attitudes survey, the British Election Study and the European Social Survey - are a vital tool for understanding the changes in attitudes to central issues like immigration and the deep forces shaping these changes.

In this lecture, extensive use of these resources was made to explore three sets of questions, with a focus mostly (though not only) on Britain. Firstly, the lecture examined how attitudes towards immigration had changed over the very long run and what accounted for this change. Immigration and the debates it provoked had been part of British political and social life for generations. The lecture compared the landscape of opinion at that time with that of fifty or sixty years ago, during the first wave of post-war mass migration to Britain. It also considered what drove changes in immigration attitudes from one generation to the next and what the consequences of those slow but relentless shifts were.

Secondly, the lecture examined how attitudes towards immigration had changed in the shorter run, from one election to the next, as governments and policies changed. It explored the role that immigration had played in the political dramas of the past decade - the rise of UKIP, the EU referendum and the tumultuous post-Brexit elections. The lecture also examined the role that political parties had had on how immigration was seen, as successive governments reworked Britain's relations with its neighbours and the policies governing who migrated there and on what terms.

Thirdly, the lecture considered the landscape of immigration attitudes at that time and what this might mean for the next general election and beyond. It examined why the Conservatives were focusing so much energy on a campaign to 'Stop the boats' and what political effects this campaign and immigration attitude more broadly might have on the election expected in 2024. The lecture also explored how attitudes towards immigration might continue to change in years to come and what the implications might be for British society and politics.


  • Robert Ford
    Professor University of Manchester
    Robert Ford is Professor of Political Science at the University of Manchester, Senior Fellow at the UK in a Changing Europe and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. Professor Ford has authored over 30 academic journal articles on a wide range of topics including immigration, national identity, racism and anti-racism and changing patterns of political choice. He is the author of several award winning books including Revolt on the Right; Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box; Brexitland; and The British General Election of 2019. Rob has worked with the BBC elections analysis team since 2005, covering local, devolved, European and general elections, the Scottish independence referendum and the EU referendum and helping to produce the exit polls for the last five elections.


  • Stian Westlake
    Executive Chair Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
    Stian Westlake is Executive Chair of the the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). He joined in June 2023. Before this, he served as Chief Executive of the Royal Statistical Society, as Executive Director of Policy and Research at Nesta, as adviser to three UK science ministers and as a management consultant with McKinsey & Company. Stian’s research interests include the economics and politics of innovation, research and technology. He is a regular commentator on science and innovation policy, and co-author of ‘Restarting the Future: How to Fix the Intangible Economy and Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy’.