There has been a lot of chat about Ed Miliband’s speech this morning on the social media networks by people who have not read through or heard the speech, so now I’ve read through the transcript I feel in a better place to add comment.
Firstly, were this really dog whistle politics designed to please the right wing, or the electorate who appeal to populist politics of the sort that the Daily Express and the Daily Mail dine out on, then there are far better ways of doing it that’s for sure. Instead Miliband explained his long held appreciation of a Britain that has enjoyed good deals of immigration – which he himself was the beneficiary of. At no point is there any mention that immigrants are a problem or that the public sector is bursting full of foreigners – as is the standard trope of dog whistle politics.
In fact Miliband makes a big deal of those he calls “doomsayers”, or those who have spoken ill of the benefits of Britain being an open place for immigration, such as Oswald Moseley in the 1930s, Enoch Powell in the 1960s and Nick Griffin today – making absolute certain that what Miliband is pushing for here is in direct opposition to those who have tried to write off foreigners as the sum total of the nation’s problems.
In any case, Miliband is optimistic that the dog whistling of the past – the era where signs on pub doors read “no blacks and no Irish” – is in decline. We are, in this country, increasingly able to have sensible conversations on ethnicity and immigration because as a country we have come a long way from the odious poilitics of the past. Miliband can hardly be accused of whipping up tension since he is so adamant that this type of politics is in retreat.
What the media has concentrated on is Miliband’s talk about language barriers in this country, particularly in employment. Though very important, it should be noted that this was only one portion of Ed’s speech. What is also noteworthy is to what extent this is a distancing from the last Labour government. As Miliband pointed out there was too much optimistm that integration would just happen overnight. The previous Labour government also made cuts to ESOL, which though was not explicitly stated in the speech, is hinted at. Miliband clearly wants to put this right.
Miliband expressly states that language is only one part of the problem of segregation. It is shocking to realise that almost one million children in Britain now don’t speak English as their first language at home, double what it was in 1997, but housing is a problem that needs addressing by a real one nation government too. Criminal landlords prey on newcomers and their limited English language skills in order to exploit them. And since this government, too, have dramatically scaled back English language learning both the Conservatives and Labour have a long way to come. Ed today addressed this shortfall, and what he plans to do about it, in his own party.
Miliband now needs to address to what extent disunity and disharmony in this country has been bolstered by growing inequality and wealth disparities. He is on message about the cultural element, namely that multiculturalism unnecessarily pigeonholes while full assimilation requires people to forget about where they have come from and their own personal histories. But now he needs to link this to the economic sphere, highlighting to what extent social segregation feeds into an economics of predatory capitalism.