Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's newspapers

1. This is not class war (Guardian)

The Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, uses the first working day of the new year to launch into pre-election rhetoric. Labour has always fought for the many, not the few, he says, and Tory claims to do the same are a con trick

2. A simple way to keep law and order -- make everyone kiss and cuddle (Telegraph)

Over at the Telegraph, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, writes a light-hearted piece arguing that people are often frustrated by a complicated justice system when all they want is an apology.

3. China -- handle with care (Daily Telegraph)

The emotional condemnation that followed the execution of Akmal Shaikh is exactly the wrong way to deal with the world's next superpower, writes Malcolm Moore from Shanghai. Britain's tone must emphasise respect, although it may not agree with all of Beijing's policies.

4. The west's preaching to the east must stop (Financial Times)

Meanwhile, at the FT, Ronnie Chan argues that the west must get used to the new global reality -- it will not be as dominant as it was in the past, which could result in a better and safer world.

5. The world must tread carefully in Yemen (Independent)

The terror threat from Yemen cannot be ignored, but other countries must ensure that, before anything else, they do not make matters worse.

6. The war on terror has been about scaring people, not protecting them (Guardian)

The ease with which the plane bomber could operate exposes the vacuity and recklessness at the heart of the US response to 9/11, says Gary Younge. Measures have done little to protect us, but much to radicalise ever-growing numbers of people.

7. Britain doesn't need a dose of shock therapy (Times)

Commentary on Britain's economy has come to resemble tabloid reporting on the World Cup, argues Bill Emmott. We'll have to endure some pain over the next few years, but ignore the pundits -- the economy isn't a basket case.

8. Well done, P D James. But will the BBC get the message? (Independent)

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says she loves the BBC, but the most prestigious political programmes and documentaries are not open to "people like us".

9. Belching cows can help to rescue our planet (Times)

Although the prodigious methane output of cattle is bad for the environment, Graham Harvey puts forward the argument that their grazing on grass will soak up carbon.

10. Unlearnt lessons of the Great Depression (Financial Times)

The Princeton academic Harold James analyses parallels between now and the Great Depression of the 1930s, and considers the lessons we should learn from this.

 

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No, the Brexit vote wasn't just about immigration

The data shows that most voters want a fairer society. Labour must fight for this in the Brexit negotiations. 

The result of the UK referendum to leave the European Union has shaken the political establishment to its core. As I have argued since then, it should be a wakeup call to all political parties.

Some have also argued that the referendum result is having international repercussions, with the election of Donald Trump to the White House cited as "Brexit Plus Plus". With the imminent election in France, and Germany’s later this year, responsible analysts are trying to understand why people voted the way they did and what this means. Too often, there are knee jerk explanations without any evidentiary justification to back them up. 

Analysis of who voted to leave shows the majority of people who voted to leave live in the South of England, and 59 per cent were from the middle classes (A, B, C1). Only 21 per cent of people in the lowest income groups voted to leave.

Analysis of why people voted as they did is more complex. This includes an increase in Euroscepticism particularly from older, middle class voters; concerns about globalisation and the impact on jobs; inequalities and being left behind; and new voters who didn’t vote in the 2015 General Election, for whom immigration was a concern. When this analysis is overlaid on analysis of that election, some themes emerge. The attitudes and values of the majority of the British public are firmly rooted in the desire for a fairer society, based on principles of equality and social justice. Although immigration played a part in the election and referendum results, perceived competence, being "left behind" and disillusionment with the direction of change were the key drivers.

Whether people voted to remain or leave, they did so because they believed that they and their families would be better off, and the majority who voted believed they would be better off if we leave the EU. Labour accepts and respects this. We have said that we will vote for Article 50, but we intend to hold this Tory government to account to ensure we get the best possible deal for the country.

In his speech last week, Jeremy Corbyn set out the issues that Labour will hold the government to account on. We have been absolutely clear that we want tariff-free access to the single market, to ensure that Britain continues to trade openly with our European neighbours, and to protect the cost of living for families struggling to get by. Getting the best deal for the UK means that we must continue to have a strong relationship with our EU neighbours.

Under my work and pensions portfolio, for example, we know that 40 per cent of pension funds are invested outside of the UK. If we want to guarantee a dignified and secure retirement for our pensioners, we must ensure that savers can get the best returns for the investments they make.

We also know that many of the protections that have until now been offered by the European Union must continue to be guaranteed when we leave. Provisions that secure the rights of disabled people, or that protect worker’s rights are an essential part of British society, enhanced by the EU. These cannot be torn up by the Tories.

Defending these rights is also at the heart of our approach to immigration. The dire anti-migrant rhetoric from some parts of the media and certain politicians, is reprehensible. I reject this scapegoating, which has fear and blame at its heart, because it is not true. Blaming migrants for nearly seven wasted years of Tory austerity when they are net contributors of over £2bn a year to the economy is perverse.

Of course we need to respond when public services are coming under pressure from local population increases. That’s why Labour wants to reinstate the Migration Impact Fund that the Tories abolished. We also need to ensure new members of communities get to know their new neighbours and what’s expected of them.

We believe that migrants’ broader contribution to British society has too often been obscured by the actions of unscrupulous employers, who have exploited new arrivals at the expense of local labour. A vast network of recruitment and employment agencies has developed in this country. It is worth hundreds of billions of pounds. Last year over 1.3m people were employed in the UK by these agencies. In 2007, 1 in 7 of these people came from the EU. We should ask how many are recruited directly from the EU now, and offered precarious work on very low wages whilst undercutting local labour. Labour will put an end to this practice, in order to protect both those who come here to work and those that grew up here.

Importantly, however, we cannot let our exit from the EU leave us with skill shortages in our economy. Our current workforce planning is woeful, particularly for the long-term. We need to reduce our need for migrant labour by ensuring our young, and our not so young, are trained for the jobs of the future, from carers to coders. Again, the Conservatives have undermined people’s chances of getting on by cutting college funding and the adult skills budget.

Unlike the government, Labour will not shirk from our responsibilities to the nation. Our plans for Brexit will respect the referendum result, whilst holding the Government to account and delivering a better future for all our people, not just the privileged few.

Debbie Abrahams is shadow work and pensions secretary.