Let's talk about immigration

Because we never do, do we?

Perhaps the most clichéd line one comes across in the intersecting worlds of politics and journalism is that immigration is "the subject no politician wants to talk about".

It's not just inaccurate but annoying. And it's most annoying when, in the midst of a discussion about immigration, a participant claims, with a straight face: ""We just don't talk about immigration." Doh!

As I noted in a Guardian piece during the election campaign last April:

The opening question of the first leaders' debate in British political history was on the subject of -- wait for it! -- immigration.

And, as I pointed out on Channel 4's 10 O'Clock Live programme last night, the newspapers, led by the Mail and the Express, talk of little else -- witness this morning's cover story in the Express:

£250 a week for every migrant

As for politicians, here's a short selection of some of the most egregious, hyperbolic and populist remarks made in relation to immigration and immigrants by leading Conservative and Labour figures in recent years:

Let me take you on a journey to a foreign land -- to Britain after a second term of Tony Blair.

- William Hague's speech to the Conservative Spring Forum in March 2001

Whilst they're going through the process, the children [of asylum seekers] will be educated on the site . . . but importantly not swamping the local school.

- David Blunkett, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme in April 2002

It's not racist to impose limits on immigration

- Michael Howard's 2005 election poster, under the headline, "Are you thinking what we are thinking?"

Our [immigration] system is not fit for purpose.

- John Reid, speaking in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, May 2006

Adopt our values or stay away, says Blair

- Telegraph headline, in response to Tony Blair's speech in December 2006, telling immigrants that they had ''a duty" to integrate

. . . drawing on the talents of all to create British jobs for British workers.

- Gordon Brown's first Labour conference speech as leader of the party in September 2007

I was in Plymouth recently and a 40-year-old black man . . . said, "I came here when I was six, I've served in the Royal Navy for 30 years . . . but I'm so ashamed that we've had this out-of-control system with people abusing it so badly."

- David Cameron, speaking in the first televised leaders' debate in April 2010

 

These are just a small sample, off the top of my head (and don't even get me started on Phil Woolas). There are many more such examples of British politicians using ramped-up rhetoric about immigrants and immigration to fear-monger, distract and/or impress Paul Dacre. I stand by what I said on the telly last night: those people who claim that talk of immigration is "suppressed" and demand a "debate" on immigration tend to be people who hold rather negative, hostile and ill-informed views on the subject. I've yet to come across people who say: "We have to have a debate about immigration because it's so good."

But feel free to prove me wrong below the line. Ready, steady, go . . .

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Metro mayors can help Labour return to government

Labour champions in the new city regions can help their party at the national level too.

2017 will mark the inaugural elections of directly-elected metro mayors across England. In all cases, these mayor and cabinet combined authorities are situated in Labour heartlands, and as such Labour should look confidently at winning the whole slate.

Beyond the good press winning again will generate, these offices provide an avenue for Labour to showcase good governance, and imperatively, provide vocal opposition to the constraints of local government by Tory cuts.

The introduction of the Mayor of London in 2000 has provided a blueprint for how the media can provide a platform for media-friendly leadership. It has also demonstrated the ease that the office allows for attribution of successes to that individual and party – or misappropriated in context of Boris Bikes and to a lesser extent the London Olympics.

While without the same extent of the powers of the sui generis mayor of the capital, the prospect of additional metro-mayors provide an opportunity for replicating these successes while providing experience for Labour big-hitters to develop themselves in government. This opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed, and after Sadiq Khan’s victory in London has shown that the role can grow beyond the limitations – perceived or otherwise - of the Corbyn shadow cabinet while strengthening team Labour’s credibility by actually being in power.

Shadow Health Secretary and former leadership candidate Andy Burnham’s announcement last week for Greater Manchester was the first big hitter to make his intention known. The rising star of Luciana Berger, another member of Labour’s health team, is known to be considering a run in the Liverpool City Region. Could we also see them joined by the juggernaut of Liam Byrne in the West Midlands, or next-generation Catherine McKinnell in the North East?

If we can get a pantheon of champions elected across these city regions, to what extent can this have an influence on national elections? These new metro areas represent around 11.5 million people, rising to over 20 million if you include Sadiq’s Greater London. While no doubt that is an impressive audience that our Labour pantheon are able to demonstrate leadership to, there are limitations. 80 of the 94 existing Westminster seats who are covered under the jurisdiction of the new metro-mayors are already Labour seats. While imperative to solidify our current base for any potential further electoral decline, in order to maximise the impact that this team can have on Labour’s resurgence there needs to be visibility beyond residents.

The impact of business is one example where such influence can be extended. Andy Burnham for example has outlined his case to make Greater Manchester the creative capital of the UK. According to the ONS about 150,000 people commute into Greater Manchester, which is two constituency’s worth of people that can be directly influenced by the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Despite these calculations and similar ones that can be made in other city-regions, the real opportunity with selecting the right Labour candidates is the media impact these champion mayors can make on the national debate. This projects the influence from the relatively-safe Labour regions across the country. This is particularly important to press the blame of any tightening of belts in local fiscal policy on the national Tory government’s cuts. We need individuals who have characteristics of cabinet-level experience, inspiring leadership, high profile campaigning experience and tough talking opposition credentials to support the national party leadership put the Tory’s on the narrative back foot.

That is not to say there are not fine local council leaders and technocrats who’s experience and governance experience at vital to Labour producing local successes. But the media don’t really care who number two is, and these individuals are best serving the national agenda for the party if they support A-listers who can shine a bright spotlight on our successes and Tory mismanagement.

If Jeremy Corbyn and the party are able to topple the Conservatives come next election, then all the better that we have a diverse team playing their part both on the front bench and in the pantheon of metro-mayors. If despite our best efforts Jeremy’s leadership falls short, then we will have experienced leaders in waiting who have been able to afford some distance from the front-bench, untainted and able to take the party’s plan B forward.