In defence of Maurice Glasman

He has spoken up for the low-paid workers whose standard of life has been forced down by excessive i

In the last two issues of the New Statesman, Maurice Glasman is to be found apologising for his remarks about immigration, but many rank and file Labour voters will be wondering why. He said nothing that was untrue or lacking in balance. As a long-standing campaigner for a living wage he will have been acutely aware that opening the borders to a sudden increase in newcomers has driven wages down, especially for the least well paid.

The same point has been repeatedly made by Polly Toynbee in the Guardian, and so far she has not been forced to recant in public. Here she is in 2005:

"The implication is that these Londoners are so thick or lazy that we need cheap foreigners for catering, caring and cleaning who can take low pay while sleeping on friends' floors in this expensive city. But what part of the good society does this help to create? It makes restaurants cheap for the well-off and lowers taxes, while public services are manned by those on sub-survivable pay."

And again in 2006: "Poor families in this most expensive city can't pay for childcare, and compete for jobs with single migrants willing to take less than a living wage. But the rich prosper: restaurants, cleaners and all other services are cheaper because wages are low."

And once more in 2010, when she criticised Gordon Brown for "boasting frequently" about low wage inflation growth, by which he meant: "Foreigners willing to work harder for less do hold down pay, especially in the care and hospitality sectors still not covered by the Gangmasters Act." Immigration is "wonderful for employers and the affluent wanting cheap nannies, cleaners and plumbers - bad for the unemployed, many of whom would have been skilled-up for the jobs otherwise.' Controlling the borders, she thought, was 'a first duty of government. Sudden and unexpected immigration has abruptly changed the nature of some communities."

Maurice Glasman was speaking with the authentic voice of Labour voters. About three quarters of Labour voters want tighter immigration controls. A YouGov poll in May this year found that 76 per cent of Labour voters supported government measures 'to limit the number of economic migrants from outside the EU who are entitled to work in Britain'. Only 18 per cent were opposed. The trouble is that the 18 per cent includes the people who write articles for the New Statesman and the 76 per cent have to rely on the bravery of people like Maurice Glasman.

Back in August 2006 Home Secretary, John Reid, in a speech at Demos tried to take the emotion out of the debate: '"n my view mass migration and the management of immigration is now the greatest challenge facing all European governments. We have to get away from the notion that anyone who wants to talk about immigration is somehow a racist." But the issue still makes some of the more sensitive party intellectuals so uncomfortable that they would rather not think about it. And yet most developed countries have an immigration policy, not least because the sheer weight of numbers can cause problems. The more crowded the country, the more necessary is an immigration policy. The UK is already one of the most densely populated parts of the world, with double the population density of France and eight times that of America. England, on its own, is more densely populated than India. The consequences for house prices, traffic jams, school places, wages, and hospital waiting lists are there for all to see.

A UK study for the Low Pay Commission looked at the impact of immigration between 1997 and 2005 and concluded that the arrival of economic migrants benefited workers in the middle and upper part of the wage distribution, but placed downward pressure on the wages of workers on lower levels of pay. Over the period, wages at all points of the wage distribution increased but the UCL study concluded that wages in the lowest quartile would have increased faster without the effect of immigration. They estimated that for each one per cent increase in the ratio of immigrants to natives in the working age population there was a 0.5 per cent decrease in the wages of the lowest tenth of workers.

It is often said that immigrants will do the jobs British people don't want, but this question is entirely a matter of pay and conditions. People will do dirty or hard jobs if they are paid enough. Employers want to pay as little as possible; whereas workers understandably want a living wage. The campaign for a London Living Wage is seeking only £7.85 -- not much to ask for. The inescapable fact is that immigration produces winners and losers - and the poorest members of society have been the losers.

The impact on housing has also been severe, especially in London. First time buyers have been priced out of the market. Immigration has not been the only factor, but it has had a major and decisive influence on prices. We can compare the ratio of average prices to average incomes in the UK over time. In 1980 the ratio was 2.3, but by 2009 during the height of mass immigration, the ratio had nearly doubled to 4.5. Take Tower Hamlets. It is possible to compare the average price of houses in the lowest quartile of the distribution with the average wage for the lowest quartile of earners. In 1997 the ratio was 3.7. In 2009 it was 7.6, double the 1997 figure.

Such realities no doubt explain why opinion surveys consistently show a majority against mass immigration. A YouGov survey in 2008 asked whether immigration should be 'stopped', 'reduced but not stopped', or 'increased': 23 per cent said it should be stopped; 61 per cent thought it should be reduced but not stopped and only 2 per cent that it should be increased. Even among 'recent immigrants' there was a slight majority in favour of reduction: 3 per cent thought it should be stopped; 48 per cent reduced but not stopped, a total of 51 per cent. Only 10 per cent wanted an increase. That result is not as paradoxical as it may seem at first sight. Many people on low incomes are recent immigrants.

Instead of being pressurised into public recantations, Maurice Glasman should be given a special Labour party medal for the moral courage he has displayed in speaking up for the powerless low-paid workers whose standard of life has been forced down by excessive immigration.

David Green is Director of Civitas

Show Hide image

Labour must reclaim English patriotism if we are to beat Ukip and the Tories

We can't talk about the future of our country unless we can discuss the past. 

I was a parliamentary candidate for Thurrock, but the place which I currently call home is Hackney, London. This distinction is worth explaining. The questions of Labour and Englishness – what exactly is the English problem that we’re trying to solve, why do we need a progressive patriotism, does it already exist, if not why not and if we had one what would it look like? – are, above all, questions of identity and place. We need to build a patriotism that includes and resonates with residents of both Hackney and Thurrock. Currently they are very far apart. 

I’m the little girl who sat on her dad’s shoulders to wave a flag at Princess Anne’s first wedding. And I was also, like Sadiq Khan, waving a flag at the Silver Jubilee in 1977. I’m an ex-Catholic, I’m a Londoner, I’m English and I’m a woman, and all of those identities are important although not necessarily equally so and not necessarily all of the time.

But I’m also a member of the Labour party, not only as a candidate, but now as an activist in Hackney. And that is where I see the difference very strongly between Hackney and what I experienced in Thurrock. 

Thurrock was Ukip ground zero last year - 12,000 people voted for Ukip in a general election for the first time, on top of the 3,500 that had voted for them before in 2010. Most of those 12,000 people had either not voted before, or had voted Labour. 

This isn’t just about being in two different places. Sometimes it feels like more than being in two different countries, or even like being on two different planets. The reality is that large swathes of Labour’s members and supporters don’t identify as patriotic, fundamentally because patriotism has been seized and colonised by the right. We need to understand that, by allowing them to seize it, we are losing an opportunity to be able to reclaim our past. 

We do not have any legitimacy to talk about the future of our country unless we can talk about our past in a better way. We have tried but our efforts have been half-hearted. Take Ed Miliband's call for One Nation Labour, which ended up amounting to a washed-out Union Jack as a visual for our brand. It could have been so much better – an opportunity for an intellectual rebranding and a seizure of Conservative territory for our own ends. Ultimately One Nation Labour was a slogan and not a project. 

There is a section of the left which has a distinct discomfort with the idea of pride in country. It has swallowed the right-wing myth that England’s successes have all been Conservative ones. This is a lie, but one that has spread very effectively. The left’s willingness to swallow it means that we are still living in a Thatcherite paradigm. It is no wonder progressives revolt at the idea of patriotism, when the right’s ideas of duty and authority quash our ideas of ambitions for equality, opportunity for all and challenging injustice. But we risk denying our successes by allowing the right to define Englishness. It’s England that helped establish the principle of the right to vote, the rule of law, equal suffrage, and the fight against racism. 

If Englishness is going to mean anything in modern England, it needs to be as important for those who feel that perhaps they aren’t English as it is for those who feel that they definitely are. And a place must be reserved for those who, though technically English, don’t see their own story within the Conservative myth of Englishness. 

Although this reclaiming is electorally essential, it is not an electoral gimmick. It is fundamental to who we are. Even if we didn’t need it to win, I would be arguing for it.

We need to make sure that progressive patriotism reclaims the visual language that the Conservatives use to dress up their regressive patriotism. Women need to be as much in the pantheon of the radicals as part of the visual identity of Englishness. Women tend to either be there by birth or by marriage, or we are abstract manifestations of ideals like "justice" or "truth" – as seen on city halls and civic buildings across the country. But English women need to be real, rather than just ideal. Englishness does need to be focused on place and connection, and it should include Mary Wollstonecraft and Sylvia Pankhurst as well as Wat Tyler and Thomas Paine. 

We can’t pretend that we’re always right. The most patriotic thing you can do is to admit sometimes that you’re wrong, so that your country can be better. I love my country, for all its faults. But I do not live with them. I try to make my country better. That is progressive patriotism. And I know all of us who want to be part of this can be part of it. 

This article is based on Polly’s contribution to Who Speaks to England? Labour’s English challenge, a new book published today by the Fabian Society and the Centre for English Identity and Politics at the University of Winchester.