Immigration, immigration, immigration: Mehdi Hasan on Cameron's speech

Cameron’s speech is lazy, ill-informed and inflammatory.

From Munich to Hampshire. David Cameron's speech in front of a Conservative audience later this morning will argue that immigration "threatens our way of life", in the non-inflammatory headline of the Torygraph. (You can read the full text by clicking here.)

There are (obvious? cynical? valid?) questions about the timing and tone of the speech. Is this a tactic to divert attention from the coalition's blunders on NHS reform and the nurses' attack on the hapless Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley? Did the Prime Minister's earlier denunciation of Oxford University's manifest failure to admit black students provide him with the requisite "cover" to take a potshot at immigrants? Is his (renewed) focus on forced marriages and English lessons a legitimate and proportionate intervention in a vital area of public policy or a crude dog-whistle to the Tory right and BNP-type voters? I'll leave you to make up your own minds (below the line?) but I can't help but note this tweet from ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie:

Increasingly nervous about core Tory vote, Cameron makes immigration speech

Hmm. That's very "responsible" of him. Perhaps the most frustrating and irritating claim that the PM makes in the speech is that Labour ministers "closed down discussion" of immigration. Yawn. As I noted in a post for Comment Is Free during the general election campaign last year:

One of the hardiest myths in British public life is that there is a conspiracy of silence on immigration. Liberals and leftists, it is alleged, have banded together to prevent debate or discussion of "mass immigration" into the UK, caused by Labour's "open-door" policies.

Really? Tell that to the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the BBC, Channel 4, Michael Howard, Phil Woolas, MigrationWatch – the list is endless.

And in an excellent and informative post this morning, Sunder Katwala of the Fabians says:

The idea that debate about immigration has been silenced and closed down in Britain is a pervasive myth.

But, as a matter of fact, it can be easily disproved if one goes and looks at what politicians said and did throughout the period, or reviewing the endless noisy public debates about immigration, and volumes of legislation on immigration (broadly in a restrictive direction) under almost every postwar government, whether Conservative or Labour. I published a Comment Is Free post, "The Enoch myth", in 2008, offering chapter and verse, which proves beyond any reasonable doubt just how noisy these decades of supposed silenced debate always were. (Cameron, perhaps prey to the myth, says in his speech: "I remember when immigration wasn't a central political issue in our country – and I want that to be the case again." I wonder if he could cite any five- or ten-year postwar period which he has in mind when he claims that?)

It is interesting to reflect on the drivers of the sense of political disconnection which means that this is widely believed but that is a very different thing from the myth being true.

Cameron directly echoes Michael Howard's election posters in 2005, which proved somewhat less effective than the Conservatives hoped at the time, and which had the rather odd aim of starting a debate about immigration which will not be distracted by allegations of racism by starting a debate about racism and being silenced, rather more than to start a frank and rational public debate about immigration itself.

It was rather odd to claim that the other major party was treating all discussion of immigration as verboten – because I clearly recall that Labour had election posters in 2005 which proclaimed in bold, primary colours "Your Country's Border's Safe", and it would be to rewrite history rather spectacularly to claim that Labour home secretaries such as Jack Straw or David Blunkett did not speak about immigration.

But, let's be honest, or "frank", as the Prime Minister likes to say: this isn't about immigration. This is about Cameron.

As Anthony Painter notes over at LabourList:

David Cameron is in trouble. And when he's in trouble, he panics and presses the race, identity, welfare and immigration buttons.

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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Why Angela Eagle is the likeliest challenger to Jeremy Corbyn

The former shadow first secretary of state is the "unity candidate" of choice. But don't rule out a bid by Yvette Cooper. 

Despite 20 shadow cabinet resignations, there is not the merest hint that Jeremy Corbyn will resign. The Labour leader's team have pledged to fill most of the empty posts (though a full frontbench looks impossible to assemble) and have vowed not to give in to "a corridor coup".

At tonight's PLP meeting, MPs will discuss a motion of no confidence against Corbyn with a secret ballot held tomorrow (the result will be announced around 5pm). After winning the vote by a large margin, senior figures are likely to make a final attempt to persuade the leader to step aside. But having held out this long, there is little prospect of Corbyn doing so.  

It's for this reason that all sides now expect a leadership contest. Assuming that Corbyn automatically makes the ballot (a matter of legal dispute), most rebels believe he should face a single candidate. Lisa Nandy, who had been touted as a soft left challenger, has ruled herself out. Tom Watson is regarded by many as an ideal replacement but is said to be unwilling to launch a challenge. Rather than a divisive contest, Labour's deputy leader, who would automatically become interim leader if Corbyn stood down, wants "the leadership on a plate," a source said (like Michael Howard in 2003). 

This leaves Angela Eagle (who resigned today). The former shadow first secretary of state, who has deputised for Corbyn at PMQs, is known to have leadership ambitions and enjoys increasing support among MPs. As an experienced soft left figure, with strong trade union links, Eagle is regarded as well-placed to bridge Labour's divides. Asked today whether she would run, she replied: "We need somebody who can unite the party". Though Corbyn's team remain confident of winning another leadership election, Eagle may be the one who tests his support.

But don't rule out a bid by Yvette Cooper. "She's the only grown-up candidate and I think she wants it," a source told me yesterday. Cooper's supporters believe that the experienced economist is best-equipped to respond to the Brexit negotiations. "Labour must look beyond the task of simply 'uniting the party,'" a source said. But a bid by the former shadow home secretary would likely result in a multi-candidate election (with Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis potentially joining the race). This, Corbyn's opponents fear, would once again guarantee him victory. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.