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Break with this Tory rhetoric on immigration

Passport controlRecent weeks have seen a poisoning of the political discourse about immigration. Much of the ludicrous fear mongering about an imminent invasion of Romanians and Bulgarians was whipped up by Tory tabloid newspapers. Their agenda is transparent: maximum publicity and support for UKIP ahead of the European Parliamentary elections this spring, primarily as a means of pushing Cameron to the right. Then, no doubt, they will suddenly discover that the UKIP website mocked the death of Nelson Mandela and that its leader Nigel Farage allegedly sang Hitler Youth songs at school. The same tabloids will then quietly fall in behind the Tories before the 2015 general election.

Nor does the Government believe half the rubbish it talks about the dangers of migration. It has suppressed its own report which shows that the benefits of EU immigration into Britain significantly outweigh the drawbacks. But the Conservatives know from their darkest days in Opposition that immigration is the one issue on which they always lead Labour in the polls. So as their unpopular service cuts and cost of living crisis bite deeper, the issue of foreigners becomes a convenient distraction for a beleaguered Government.

More fool the Labour leadership then for drifting along with this agenda. Its failure to oppose the Government’s new immigration bill is an act of political cowardice, which allows to pass unchallenged the most odious practices – like the rewarding of Home Office staff with shopping vouchers for rejecting asylum seekers’claims.

This pandering to a public ignorance that Cameron’s team itself helped create might yet backfire. As two million displaced people flee the civil conflict in Syria, our Government, representing the eighth richest country in the world, refuses to take in a single refugee. And Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, timidly playing catch-up, says: maybe 400?

Much of the Tories’ dislike of the EU is due to the latter’s modest commitment to some workplace rights such as minimum holiday pay and maternity entitlements, which Tory business backers want binned. And many of the Government’s new rules on immigrants are about charging for universal services, which opens the way for charging for other people later. Under the anti-migrant rhetoric, an attack on many of our post-war welfare gains is being mounted.

The Labour leadership must break from this narrative, not just on immigration, but on demonising benefit claimants, as Shadow Work and Pensions spokesperson Rachel Reeves has done, or on scapegoating teachers, as we’ve had from Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt. Unless it fundamentally changes the conversation from the Tory line of divide and rule, all the positive noises about controlling the energy companies and breaking up the banks will look implausible and lack credibility.

Millions of hard-pressed people desperately need a change of policy. If Labour cannot convince them that it is on their side, they will not feel inspired to vote for them, however attractive a few of its policies may look on paper.

8 Comments

  1. Dave Roberts says:

    What are you suggesting, open borders?

  2. Rod says:

    @ Dave Roberts

    Open borders was New Labour’s position. In the Guardian newspaper, last year, John Reid described how New Labour used immigration to regulate the labour market – i.e. keep wages low.

    The author of the above piece suggests Labour should convince ordinary people it is on their side. Well, that’s only going to happen if Labour conceal their previous and current priorities.

  3. Dave Roberts says:

    A book well worth reading is “The Diversity Illusion” by Ed West. On page 13 he has this to say. ” The previous October a former speechwriter for Tony Blair, as well as Labour Home Secretaries David Blunkett and Jack Straw, made a startling admission. Writing in is Evening Standard column, Andrew Neather said that huge increases in immigration under Labour’s rule had been part of a deliberate policy to “rub the right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date”.

    According to Neather, Labour’s relaxation of border controls was a conscious plan to encourage mass immigration but that ministers were nervous and reluctant to discuss such a move publicly for fear that it would alienate its “core working class vote” He said that as a result the arguments for immigration focused on economic questions instead.

    He recalled that the “major shift” in immigration policy came after the publication of a policy paper from the Performance and Innovation Unit, a Downing Street think-tank based in the Cabinet Office, in 2001. Neather wrote a major speech for Barbara Roche, the then immigration minister, the previous year which was largely based on drafts of the report.

    The final published version of her speech contained only the economic case for immigration, but ” earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose that mass immigration was the way that the government was going to make the UK truly multicultural”.

    Straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak.

  4. Matty says:

    Dave once again is twisting things – see http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/oct/26/labour-immigration-plot-andrew-neather
    “Former Labour adviser denies immigration plot to undermine right”

  5. Rod says:

    @ Matty

    Cheers for the link Matty.

    I’ve never bought into the “rub their noses in multiculturalism” plot claims, not least because more than a few on the parliamentary right are known to enjoy a bit of multiculturalism whenever they get the chance.

    And of course, the far right for whom conspiracy is the main currency, are able to discern a plot beneath every bed and behind every lamp-post.

  6. swatantra says:

    Like Rod I don’t believe in that multiculturalism plot. It was simply naivity and general incompetance that aloowed numbers to creep up, by both Parties. You may recall that nonsense over ‘Sansgatte’ which encouraged illegal immigrants in, and Labour doing nothing to close it down.

  7. Dave Roberts says:

    He’s changes his tune, that’s all. How do you feel about open borders Matty?

  8. Matty says:

    The only sense in which we have open borders is with other EU countries, something that Thatcher’s Govt signed up to in 1986.
    It is ridiculous to say Labour was in favour of uncontrolled immigration. How do you explain all that legislation making it more difficult to immigrate here?
    Eg The Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 which restricted the right of appeal for refusal of entry clearance, and fines for employers who employ people subject to immigration control.

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