If Emmanuel Macron wins the French election tomorrow, it could have a profound effect on other elections this year, including our own. It could put steel in parties such as National and Labour to stand up against the wave of fear and prejudice that washed through Britain and America last year.

That wave ought to be crashing on Europe with much more force than it could muster in the UK or the US. It has been generated by immigration, especially the immigration that gets blamed for terrorism, and continental Europe, France in particular, has suffered many more outrages of late than the English or Americans.

Immigration, for England's nationalists, meant Poles and other new citizens of the European Union. For Trump's followers in meant Latinos. For continental Europe it means Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East who as recent as 2015 were arriving in well televised waves. They were either struggling ashore from flimsy boats or walking in from Turkey. Wave upon wave of them.

Coupled with the shootings in Paris and Brussels, the truck terrorism, the killing of the priest in the Normandy church, all attributed to disaffected second generation migrants, and it is no wonder anti-immigration parties are doing well. It is remarkable that they haven't done better in European elections so far. Not even a deadly incident in Paris, claimed by Isis, almost on the eve of voting gave Marine Le Pen the first-round victory long predicted.


Good sense can prevail if brave politicians confront fear and prejudice as strongly as Macron did in the debate with Le Pen this week.

In this country, we are still waiting for Winston Peters to do his big number on Asian immigration. In the meantime, the Government has taken steps to try to change the public impression (created by its previous claim) that record levels of immigration in are beyond its control. It has put a new barrier in the way of migrants seeking work permits for low paid jobs. To qualify in future, the job will need to pay at or above the national median wage.

This could have a drastic impact on the staffing of ethnic restaurants, seasonal fruit picking, rest homes for the aged (on top of their new "pay equity" bill) and many sectors of retailing and hospitality. The value of these jobs to the whole economy was highlighted in a report by Berl consultants for service sector training organisations this week.

It also reminded us that while registered unemployment is just 5.2 per cent, the number of school leavers aged 15-24 who are completely disengaged - not even in tertiary training courses - is 13.6 per cent nationally. In some regions it's as high as 20 per cent. The report is arguing for more state funding of training, of course, but you have to wonder what it takes to motivate these kids.

Tertiary education has been a growth industry itself over the past 30 years. Downtown Auckland feels like a giant campus. Every province has a polytech and private training institutions abound. Probably it is all too institutionalised and we'd do better with more training on the job, as the report suggests. But it is high risk to hope our idle youth will replace migrant workers in industries short of labour.

It also plays into the hands of the likes of Peters who claim immigrants are "taking our jobs".

The Government sees economic as well as political benefits in moving this far against immigration. It is concerned that wages have not been rising as they should in sectors where employers are always complaining of skill shortages. If the Labour Party is right that low wages are the reason our idle youth spurn these jobs, the employers will have to offer more once migrants cannot be hired at less than the median wage.

Employers tell National there are other reasons many local applicants are not suitable, drug tests among them. Bill English has no illusions that it is going to cost money to make these people employable but considers the expense worthwhile. He remains convinced that without such "social investment" they will be lifetime state dependents, costing taxpayers much more in the long run.


But, in the meantime, what happens to service industries starved of migrant labour at rates small businesses can afford? They will have to reduce staff, raise prices, lose some business, probably close in some cases. It doesn't take very much to puncture an economy.

We need someone to stand up and say immigration is good for an under populated, growing economy with an ageing native-born population and the potential to become an even better, richer, more cosmopolitan place.

This has become a confident, outgoing country while others, including Australia, have been turning inward. But the world's dark phase will pass, possibly tomorrow.