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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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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