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Immigration is a mugs game for Labour

Immigration mug squareWhatever you think about immigration, the idea that you can sum up your policy on a pledge card in a soundbite of just three words – “Controls on immigration” is absurd. Doing so on a pledge card is pandering to UKIP. Doing so on a bit of cheap merchandising is tacky, stupid, gratuitously offensive, and has nothing to do with serious politics. Although those who advocate no controls on immigration are probably in a small minority even on the left, this totally meaningless “pledge” amounts to nothing more than playing dog-whistle politics.

It might not do the Lib Dems any good to crow about it – “Wow, Labour really are pandering to UKIP, aren’t they?” say Lib Dem Voice – they will take some comfort from the fact that this is what is driving many of those former Lib Dem voters who switched to Labour to join the Green surge instead.

none available When I was first alerted to this disgraceful act, I checked the Labour Party shopping website. I felt some relief that, at that point, there were no such mugs available. Whilst the e were just under 500 of the mugs depicting the four other pledges, the illustration of the offending immigration mug bore the message “none available“. At least some junior marketing person has had the good sense not to order any, I thought, as well as better politics than the politician who thought up the pledge.

Checking back later, I was horrified to discover that not only had the immigration mug gone on sale, but it was selling out fast. Out of an initial order of 500 that went on sale mid evening, sales by (Ed: now updated to) 10:30am Tuesday morning were:

Pledge 1 A strong economic foundation 213
Pledge 2 Higher living standards for working families 160
Pledge 3 An NHS with the time to care 407
Pledge 4 Controls on immigration 454
Pledge 5 A country where the next generation can do better than the last 132

The politics of the anti-immigration mug may be terrible, but it is clearly going to be the bad taste Xmas present of choice for Lefties this year (no link provided – we have standards about what purchases we promote).

UPDATE: Since this piece first appeared, sales of other mugs have picked up and the NHS, we are pleased that the NHS mug is catching up. Lets hope we sell out of (not ‘on’, too late for that!) that first.


  1. David Pavett says:

    I agree that it is tempting fate to try to deal with a charged issue like immigration in a three-word slogan. Selling kitchenware with the slogan componds the problem and turns poor judgement into something offensive. That’s the easy bit. The more difficult bit is to determine whether or not Labour should deal with the issue at all and if it should then how should it do so. On this Labour’s record is dismal but the left fares no better.

    Is immigration a significant issue not just in people’s minds but in terms of its impact on low paid employment, housing and schools? Do the problems arising disproportionately affect working class people? Is the current level of immigration sustainable? And above all, why do so many on the left find it so difficult to discuss these issues without assuming that anyone attempting to do so is either naive or motivated by prejudice? (This piece by Phil Burton-Cartledge was an exception to the rule.)

    We now have a bizarre situation in which the main defenders of uncontrolled or weakly controlled immigration are big business and the left.

    1. gerry says:

      David – excellent post: Jon Lansman backs open door immigration just as big business and Tory farmers do, knowing that gives them an endless supply of cheap unskilled Eastern European workers and meaning they never have to pay UK workers proper wages. That is a really sickening position for him to take and one of the reasons – along with allying with religious fundamentalists – why working class voters of all races despair that the Left will ever speak up for their class interests! I should be surprised but after years of this unholy left/big business/flexible labour markets alliance I am not in the least…this article is really sad.

      1. Billericaydickie says:

        Gerry. You are correct as to the consequences of immigration but wrong as to the motivation of those, in this case the left, advocating an open door.

        The left have always held that any kind of opposition to immigration or calls for its control were the same as fascism. The Lansmans of the world are now in the position of being at the wrong end of the argument and wriggle as they might there is no way out for them.

    2. Nobody on the left is defending “uncontrolled or weakly controlled” immigration. And in fact we have not had an open door immigration since 1962 and the passage of the Commonwealth Immigration Act. What I do support is immigration controls that are fair, transparent and efficient. My office deals with thousands of immigration cases a year. And in my experience too many problems arise from the sheer administrative chaos.
      But your central point is that immigrants are responsible for low wages and pressure on the public services.
      Actually without immigrants and the children of immigrants we would not have public services in many parts of the country.
      But immigrants don’t CAUSE low wages. Deregulation, weakened trade unions and predatory employers do that. Notably there were no prosecutions for failing to pay the National Minimum Wage in the whole of 2013/2014.
      So a mug saying “Defend Trade Union Rights and Freedoms” might be altogether more appropriate.

      1. David Pavett says:

        I would certainly be much happier with a “Defend trade union rights and freedoms” mug. However, I think that you miss the point in a rather striking way. Most of the net immigration of a quartet of a million people in the last year did not come from the Commonwealth for which controls are in place but from the EU for which, as you must be aware, there are no controls.

        Does any on the left defend uncontolled immigration in the form of the EU’s doctrine of free movement of labour? You must know that many do. You can even find that defence made here in the columns of Left Futures.

        By side-stepping the massive and obvious issue of EU free movement I think that you provide yet another example of the great difficulty that all too many on the left having in discussing this issue. That is a real shame and does nothing for our credibility.

        P.S. Downward pressure on wages was not my central point. In fact it was not my point at all. I referred to pressure on low paid employment and there can be little doubt that such pressure exists in terms of who gets the jobs. Some employers have even been shown to have a “foreigner bias”. In the building trade use of EU migrants helps employers to ignore the need for proper training and apprenticeship programs. I think that simply pretending by ommission that there are no such issues is more than a little disappointing.

        P.S.2. As I write I am listening to the din from intensive roadworks. Pipes for major new power cables are being put into deep channels on both sides of the long road on which I live. It isn’t possible to speak to most of the workers because all except the foreman are from Eastern Europe and most of them have very little English. I would like to ask how many are members of a trade union. I will try to ask one with sufficient English about that.

        1. gerry says:

          Billeraydickie – great points and great Ian Duty name!

          David – you hit the nail on the head. As long as we are in the EU we cannot control immigration from there so Diane there is an open door, as you very well know. Ask any of your low paid UK born constituents if employers actively search out cheap Eastern European migrant workers – you know that they do, or worse they often give work to the same European ethnic group of which they are a member, shutting out UK workers entirely! As long as some like you on the Left keep denying the facts then don’t be shocked – as all over Europe – working class voters turn to parties pretending – as UKIP and others do – to defend their class interests.

          1. Barry Ewart says:

            Perhaps we should try to unite diverse working people.
            So the working class in the UK for example don’t go to the likes of a rich ex-merchant banker public school boy like Farage who wants more privatisation of the NHS and bigger bankers bonuses.
            It may be old fashioned but we should try tp politicise working people.
            I went to an NHS March on Saturday and The Socialist Campaign for A Labour Victory leaflet that was being given out addressed all this and was the best leaflet I have seen in years.
            We are not passive bystanders – so for all of us to paraphrase Joe Hill -DON’T MOAN, ORGANISE!

          2. John.P reid says:

            Barry Ewart, they’ll always be working class people who vote for Anti EU or right wing parties, maybe they feel, personal responsibiloty, and a small state are better for the country, I can’t see how you or me can convince them otherwise,this has nothing to do with the fact D Abott knows full well that in the EU, there’s a open immigration policy.

      2. John.P reid says:

        What, the 2000 EU European immigration laws mean we have had uncontrolled immigration, and it’s not we’re against it, it just means that there’s not enough social housing, or schools, we can’t all afford to send our kids to private schools, or have expensive houses in inner London, so we only ha e to commute 5 miles to work

        1. Barry Ewart says:

          Yes and perhaps they believe the garbage in the Sun and Mail.
          But my point is we don’t then change socialist beliefs to appeal to their prejudices, we try to politicise them to win them to the Left.
          They are set against each other by the Right – we should try to unite diverse working people by countering right wing propaganda.
          We don’t shrug our shoulders and say but what can we do – we fight!
          Rosa Luxemburg pointed out before the Ist World War the power of nationalism against internationalism.
          In fact Rosa refused to speak to a rally of workers before the outbreak of war as she knew they would soon be set against each other and she didn’t want to create panic.
          But I would have said to the audience: What can we do brothers and sisters? You fight!
          The Socialist Campaign for Labour Victory leaflet did just this – you should Google them.

      3. John.P reid says:

        There will always be ways around no getting the full money fo the minimum wage, people qoeking through their ,linch breaks, not having sick pay, or pensions, and people in job and knock qoeking longer hours than they’re paid for, even police work their first half hour overtime for free,

        Not al, public sector jobs rely on immigration, police foremen for instance,
        No one is saying that public sector doesn’t need immigration, it’s Eau immigration driving pay down, as molting people to live on such low wages they’ll live in communal households causes it.
        Defining freedoms, freedom of choice not too join a trade union,is one.

  2. Billericaydickie says:

    Useless article, good comments so far! Jon Lans man is, I think, trying to get himself a wider audience than on his own site.

    He uses the buzz words, pander and dog whistle which tell you he has nothing to say.

    1. John.P reid says:

      Jon Lensman doesn’t understand essex man

    2. David Pavett says:

      The assumption in politics that anyone with views one disagrees with must have questionable motives is extremely unattractive and should be resisted.

      I questioned what Jon wrote but I do not doubt for a moment that he expressed himself sincerely and honestly.

      Let’s stick to the issue and avoid speculation about possible motives which can do nothing but muddy the waters when clarity is what is most needed.

  3. Barry Ewart says:

    Good points David.
    I am a socialist and today for example whilst leafleting for Labour in a poor inner city area we met and treated asylum seekers and refugees with equality – we were joking with 2 young women who were claiming asylum that they should vote Labour when they qualify as citizens plus we helped a man who was moving and struggling to get his possessions out of the lift to carry them and wished him the best in his new home.
    But what does the Left do about issues like criminal gangs and sex traffickers and they do exist.
    We should support genuine refugees and asylum seekers.
    We should try to trade unionise migrant workers so they can’t be used by unscupulous employers to undercut wages and this would also build community solidarity.
    We also need to work with sister parties to reform the EC (to kick Neo-Liberalism out) and to make it a bottom up democratic socialist EC for working people.
    I read a lovely piece recently by an historian who said because of agrarian reform we were pushed off the land in the 19thC and pulled to the cities (to atrocious conditions) by the Industrial Revolution so we were all refugees once!
    I believe the Left has got to try to bring people together, to talk to newcomers; we all have to sell our labour to live, we all want to make it in life, we all as human beings want to survive.
    Finaly I saw a lovely bag the other day from a domestic violence charity and the words on it should have been on Labour’s mug:

    1. gerry says:

      Barry – I love your optimism, and yes the old socialist mantra AGITATE EDUCATE ORGANISE is still a valid one, but John Reid is also right: we have to tell the truth about open door immigration which Diane and Jon don’t acknowledge or ignore, just as David Pavett definitively showed in his posts.

      Right up to the late 1980s most lefties in Labour were 100%’anti EU but were turned round by all that “social Europe” stuff which Jacques Delors sold to get unions and centre-left parties on board the Euro project. Now when the EU has embedded austerity, neo liberalism, deregulation and “flexible labour markets” in its essence, most left Labour STILL accept the wretched EU project even though it is decimating working class politics and livelihoods everywhere.

      1. Barry Ewart says:

        As a brilliant piece in the New Left Review pointed out the EC was set up to counter the then perceived threat of the USSR, to promote capitalism in Europe, and to give the EC a more independent voice in the World against the dominance of the US. In fact De Gaulle of France was originally against Britain’s membership because he felt Britain would act as a Trojan Horse for the US which it eventually did and the dollar was soon to dominate (hence the desire of some for the Euro).
        We should work with our sister parties in Europe to try to reform the EC (and kick Neo-Liberalism out),to build a democratic socialist bottom up EC with and for working people.
        We also need to work with our brothers and sisters in every country of he World (including the US and China) to pursue left wing democratic socialist policies at the same time.
        Yes I am an optimist and Neo-Liberalism has not stopped me from dreaming.
        Your in solidarity!

  4. Chris says:

    What I wonder is, what are we meant to say about immigration on the doorstep? When people say they’re getting crap wages because of eastern European workers coming in (and I’ve heard that first hand), what can we possibly say that’ll get them on our side?

  5. Barry Ewart says:

    Just say we are all working people, newcomers are just like us they have to sell their labour to live too, they are just rying to make it in life, and like all of us, just trying to survive.
    We create the wealth and make societies work – the rich and powerful nick our labour and try to divide us.
    But we are better than the Tories and UKIP – the big business parties.
    Say what I say – I’m Labour but Labour needs a kick up the backside! Vote Labour!

  6. Barry Ewart says:

    Also need to trade unionise them to stop this and build community solidarity!

  7. John.P reid says:

    Why do I get the feeling when labour lose the election, it won’t be recognised, we haven’t a clue on the economy, but it’ll be said by Abbott ,that this mug, out off people who were thinking of voting labour and made them vote Tory instead

  8. John.P reid says:

    Wasn’t Abbot a keen supporter of Britian leaving the EU in the mid 80’s the only way to control EU immigration, would be to leave the EU, or would wanting to leave it, so we had control over aeuropen immigration, be racist?

    1. gerry says:

      John – yes Diane was once very anti EU: I know that first hand as I was one of the leftie activists that helped her get elected as an MPback in the day!

      But John – I desperately want Labour to win this election, as I have always voted Labour since 1979, and know that if the Tories or Lib Dems or UKIP form the next govt then the total Thatcherisation project for the UK will be completed …I don’t believe though that we are going to lose this election, I think a hung parliament like 2010 is the most likely outcome with hopefully us as the largest sing!e party, not bad with such a poor leader like Ed Miliband

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