Frank Field is wrong on the BNP

Curbing immigration won't defeat the far right

The argument that mainstream parties should counter the BNP by adopting a hardline position on immigration was discredited long ago. But the bizarre tag team of Nicholas Soames and Frank Field can't resist making it again in today's Telegraph.

To call for harsher curbs on migrants is to perpetuate the myth that it is immigration, rather than a failed neoliberal system, that is to blame for political and social alienation. It is to divide immigrants and natives into "winners" and "losers", rather than recognise that they are all too frequently victims of the same system.

Labour does have a case to answer on immigration. The party's Faustian pact with the City entailed the cynical use of migrant labour to undercut domestic wages. But instead of fostering further division, it should adopt a non-sectarian approach that benefits all through a higher minimum wage and more social housing.

It was not, as Field and Soames suggest, Labour's "cowardice" on immigration that opened the door for the BNP, but its acceptance of an economic system that condemned much of the working class to casual labour.

The declaration that immigration has left Britain without any sense of "cohesion and identity" is particularly egregious. It is not migrants who destroy cohesion, but demagogues like Griffin and the City plutocrats.

Field and Soames do not even pause to offer token praise for migrants' economic contribution. Yet new figures show that in 2008-2009, immigrants paid 37 per cent more in taxes than they cost in welfare payments and public services.

By painting a wholly negative picture of immigration, Field and Soames do not challenge the BNP's agenda, they pander to it.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.