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We should stand up to anti-migrant rhetoric by fighting for homes, jobs and services

14David Cameron’s net migration target has been exposed as an unworkable policy. In reality, it is classic scapegoating tactics, being used to distract people from the effects of government spending cuts, such as the crisis in the NHS and the increasing unaffordability of housing. All the Tories have to offer is yet more destructive cuts. Labour needs to offer both a progressive alternative and reject those who would seek to divide us.

As part of our alternative we need to fight for homes, schools and the NHS for all. We also need to stand together and stand up to the Tory efforts to pin their own economic failures on immigrants who make a great contribution to our economy, our cultural diversity and the richness of our society – without immigrants Britain would not have an NHS. The immigration mugs of the last election were a disaster, and should never be repeated.

We must try and ground the debate on immigration in the facts, and in particular, that far from being a drain on the economy, immigrants make a net contribution to our economy. Indeed, it is estimated that migrants make an estimated £20bn annual contribution towards government finances.

As part of this, we need to counter the myths on migration. Immigrants do not cause low wages; predatory employers, deregulated labour markets and the diminution of trade union rights are the underlying causes of low wages and labour market insecurity.

It is particularly hypocritical for neoliberals, of whichever party, to wring their hands about the effects of eastern Europeans on wages. Because actually it is the liberalisation of labour markets and the weakening of trade unions which are the real culprits.

The Tory-led coalition has empowered employers to indulge in the proliferation of zero-hours contracts and made it increasingly difficult for employees to access tribunals amid a backdrop of falling real wages.

As Jeremy Corbyn pointed out throughout his leadership campaign, working people need a strong trade union movement as never before and need politicians willing to legislate for a level playing field as between employers and trade unions.

And all wings of the labour movement need to work together to combat the lies of the Tory Party, Ukip and the mass media about immigration.

  • This article originally appeared in the Labour Assembly Against Austerity’s summer newsletter. Join John McDonnell MP, Clive Lewis MP, Diane Abbott MP, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka , CWU General Secretary Dave Ward, Ann Pettifor, Labour NEC Member Christine Shawcroft plus many more at a Labour Assembly Against Austerity National Conference on November 14 from 10am to 5pm at Institute of Education, Bedford Way, WC1H 0AL. Register at


  1. David Pavett says:

    Diane Abbott is right to say that we should “ground the debate on immigration in the facts”. It is therefore a pity that her article attempts no such thing and relies on rhetoric and assertion instead.

    Grounding a debate on the facts means that what are falsely claimed to be such should be challenged by establishing their falsity and also establishing the truth of the matter. Neither of these is established by mere assertion. If one were challenged after repeating the arguments of this article in a debate one would only be able to respond with “Diane Abbott says so”.

    Worse, that argument descends into make believe in order to facilitate the rhetoric. Where, for example, have the Tories tried to “pin their own economic failures on immigrants”?

    What is disconcerting about Diane Abbott’s argument is its “hear no problems, see no problems, speak no problems” approach. One does not have to be anti-immigrant to recognise that large-scale and largely unmanaged movements of population generates problems of various sorts. Further, it is a pity when people on the left seem unwilling to recognise that it is the poorest sections of society which feel the strongest impact of those problems.

    As with so many other things broad generalisations obscure issues revealed by finer analysis. The fact is that different immigrant communities are of very different types. Thus for example an IPPR study (Moving Up Together) found that some immigrant communities were falling behind while others were thriving.

    A more recent IPPR report (Trajectory and Transience) looks at ways in which high levels of immigration can challenge the resilience of communities. The IPPR takes a positive approach and looks at ways that central and local government could offset these problems. What is certain, however, is that the approach of refusing to see that there are any problem is not one that will lead to the development of appropriate solutions.

    In a very strange argument DA says that neo-liberals should not bemoan the impact of EU migrants on wages (do they?) becuase it is the liberalisation of the labour market that is the cause. She seems not to see that one of the key features of that liberalisation is the free-movement of labour leading to high levels of immigration.

    And at the end of all that we are left with no idea of what DA would consider to be a sensible immigration policy. This suggests that she thinks that no such policy is required and that no cause for concern is raised by the global population movements provoked by big power politics and by the operations of global capitalism.

    I could say much else about the hand-waving dismissal of real issues in this piece and its failure to confront real issues with well-researched facts but perhaps I have said enough to make the point.

    1. David Careless says:

      Simple maths missing in Diane’s assertion:

      “immigrants ….£20bn annual contribution towards government finances”.

      Government Annual Spend: £760 Bn
      UK Population: 64 Million

      Cost to run country -Spend per head (incl Immigrants) = £11,875
      (each inhabitant – man woman child).

      That is the average if we were truly an equal socialist state

  2. David Ellis says:

    One of the major reasons New Labour is a toxic brand is because of the unfettered immigration it encouraged. One of the main reasons Cameron got elected was because he pledged to bring that immigration right down. In fact since 2010 immigration has reached incredible new heights. The Labour opposition benches should be exposing the Tory’s lies on this issue instead their policy seems to be that the solution to the world’s problems is that everybody move to Britain. That seems to be their one and only solution to everything from African poverty to the Syrian war. Where there is a problem evacuate the population. It is of course not a solution at all and is merely pseudo radicalism in the service of political bankruptcy. The Corbynistas are fast losing all credibility. The Open Borders, `nobody is illegal’ crowd are simply tail-ending the barbarism that degenerating capitalism promises. They propose the withering away of the state before the overthrow of capitalism and that means warlordism and civil war in permanence.

  3. Verity says:

    Without ever actually responding to weaknesses in her liberal and generalised, abstract discussion on this issue Diane Abbott repeats and repeats the assertions without ever working out why it gains little traction amongst working people outside London. If she was to adopt a socialist planning programme to tackling migration issues, she might make some advances but no, it is never forthcoming. The desire for the boring and constant repetition is a mystery.

    Abbott’s acceptance of the primacy of (random, unplanned and anarchic) individualistic choices of some in the EU has become an obstacle in the argument for the acceptance of asylum seeking refugees on the one hand and the receipt of the highly technologically and medically skilled migrants from (say) India on the other.

    Abbott’s approach then essentially becomes racist as the individualist (say) Romanian’s opting to sidestep the difficult challenge of building socialism in Romania to seek personal gain are white, whilst those from migrants from india are black.

    1. John P Reid says:

      This is true,and ironically,it overlooks the fact, that parties who want less EU immigration in turn would actually be encouraging as a proportion more immigration from Asia, Africa

  4. David Ellis says:

    As if the anarchy and misery of mass economic migration and millions retreating from tyranny was the embodiment of Marx’s slogan Workers of the World Unite. In actual fact the real slogan is Workers of all Countries Unite. Abbott gives us neo-liberal cosmpolitanism not proletarian internationalism.

  5. gerry says:

    David Pavett – fantastic response, theres very little to add to your demolition of Diane’s “case”.

    David Ellis – cracking response too, reminding everyone that it was Labour’s decision in 2004 to throw open our doors to unlimited EU migration from the poorer ex Soviet bloc countries which alienated huge swathes of working class voters, fuelling the rise of the BNP, then UKIP, then apathy….

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Undoubtedly one of his better and more coherent offerings and I’ll confess that I largely agree with him.

      It largely depends on people’s real life experiences of migrants; in my own case these would be families from Eastern Europe and asylum seekers from Iran, (both of whom have my sympathy,) registering for social housing that simply isn’t there for either them or for indigenous applicants perhaps, in even greater need, (a young Asian lesbian I chatted to recently, facing all the usual problems plus the added bigotry of her own community; currently living rough or with friends and covered with bites from lice would be one such example,) or the various young Poles that I’ve worked with who can still make a crap wage pay in a way that no one living here as full British citizen ever could due to the exchange rate would be another or our mate’s cousin diagnosed with cancer in Bosnia, (where it cost £20 just to see a doctor, a fortune over there,) but now being treated over here by the NHS.

      Personally I can’t imagine what contribution any of these people are going to make to the UK, although that shouldn’t be the only consideration when allowing them to come here and I support us offering asylum to some of them solely on humanitarian grounds, nonetheless we can’t as a nation feed, shelter and succor the whole worlds no matter how much or how sincerely we might wish otherwise and particularly not when doing so is starting to create additional difficulties with people with, as it where, a prior and more legitimate claim on services and resources.

      My own view is that the UK is basically already full to capacity and that further immigration serves only to import, poverty, ignorance and more hardship for everyone into a system already stretched to breaking point.

      1. gerry says:

        Jeremy P – if someone puts a brilliant comment on this site then its good to say “I agree” and “cracking stuff”, which both David P and David E’s comments are….and I agree with your comments too: the EU immigration of the last 11 years have alienated millions of working class voters, and the response of both New Labour and Corbyn Labour ( such as it is) is truly sickening. And yes the ” refugees welcome” mob are also silly and ridiculous too.

      2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        For clarity; the young Asian woman whose predicament I described above is just as British as I am; and I find it particularly frustrating that she and too many people exactly like her are being pushed to back of the queue to make room for other people with no connection to or stake in the UK.

        Then there are all those sick people, (many of them mentally ill or with dependency problems or simply just unable to cope with a system that becomes ever more user hostile by the week,) living, (and to often dying,) in pain, poverty and desperation on the street of all our major cities.

        So the alleged logic of importing further social problems into the UK, when we seem unable any longer to deal effectively and humanely even with our own existing ones seems perverse to point of insanity.

        1. Jim says:

          Good grief, I don’t think I have ever seen such collective common sense on a Left website.
          One sentence of David Pavetts wonderful response to this article – “Further, it is a pity when people on the left seem unwilling to recognise that it is the poorest sections of society which feel the strongest impact of those problems.” should be enough to challenge the muddled and uninformed thinking about immigration that leaks out of the Greater London Labourbubble.

          Immigration, this most difficult subject, was the “most raised” issue on the stump back in May.

          1. John P Reid says:

            Maybe it’s the fact that Diane Abbotts views ,put in the article were so wrong,that no one,could see any sense in them

  6. David Pavett says:

    Where is Diane Abbott’s response to the questions raised about her article? If she thinks the questions are misguided she could explain that. If, on the other hand, she accepts that they highlight shortcomings in her piece then it would be helpful to say so. Simply ignoring all criticism and questioning is not consistent with the new culture of debate that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are trying to promote.

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