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Whatever happened to Labour resistance to the Tory rampage?

Cameron and OsborneIn case you were wondering, there is no 3-line Labour vote in the Commons this week. It’s true that on two of these days there are four debates organised by the elected Back-Bench Business Committee, though all of them concern important and worthwhile issues. But today (Tuesday) there is a highly contentious debate on an extremely toxic issue, namely immigration.

But this Immigration Bill introduced by the Home Secretary will not be challenged by Labour, at least not by a vote at second reading. Previously when a very difficult and equivocal issue arose Labour might not vote against, but would present a reasoned amendment at second reading to indicate, if not outright opposition, nevertheless deep reservations about certain aspects of the Bill with which the party fundamentally disagreed.

But not apparently on immigration, about which the Tory tabloids have long been carrying out a noxious campaign of visceral hostility. Nor even, today, on a highly disputed relaunch of nuclear in Britain which breaks every government promise to achieve value for money and reject any public subsidy. Labour was reduced to asking a few (sensible) technical questions, but no repudiation of a programme which, so far from reducing currently inflated energy prices will actually drive up electricity costs to the taxpayer even faster.

The Immigration Bill is intended, according to the Home Secretary, to ‘create a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants’. It requires private landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants. It requires temporary migrants (e.g. overseas students) to contribute a levy of around £200 to the NHS. It requires banks to check against a data-base of known immigration offenders before allowing a bank account to be opened. It provides powers to check the immigration status of driving licence applicants and to revoke the licences of over-stayers. Above all it brings in a ‘deport first, appeal later’ approach, and reduces grounds for appeal from 17 to 4. It will fine companies that employ illegal immigrants, and may even fine local authorities for letting social housing to tenants without connection to the local area. The Bill will clearly increase homelessness and cause widespread discrimination, but Labour is not even putting down a reasoned amendment.

The trouble with this ‘softly, softly’ approach is that people find it hard to understand what distinctively Labour now stands for. It has allowed Gove to run wild on education, Osborne to go unchallenged on the perversity of endless austerity, and IDS to get away with the grossest lies and excesses over welfare.

Where now do we have a policy on a major area which sets us apart from the Tories except on the minutiae of detailed application? Where, facing a contentious issue like immigration, have we sought to reframe the debate in a manner which enables the electorate to perceive, and want, alternative and more positive approaches to deal with the problem? The concern is the more we kow-tow to the Tory prejudice, lies and misrepresentation, the more they will be emboldened to maraud even further all over Labour’s territory.

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