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

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Inside the progressive alliance that beat Zac Goldsmith in Richmond

Frantic phone calls, hundreds of volunteers, and Labour MPs constrained by their party. 

Politics for a progressive has been gloomy for a long time. On Thursday, in Richmond Park of all places, there was a ray of light. Progressive parties (at least some of them) and ordinary voters combined to beat Ukip, the Tories and their "hard Brexit, soft racist" candidate.

It didn’t happen by accident. Let's be clear, the Liberal Democrats do by-elections really well. Their activists flood in, and good luck to them. But Richmond Park was too big a mountain for even their focused efforts. No, the narrow win was also down to the fast growing idea of a progressive alliance. 

The progressive alliance is both a defensive and offensive move. It recognises the tactical weakness of progressives under first past the post – a system the Tories and their press know how to game. With progressive forces spilt between Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Women’s Equality Party and more – there is no choice but to co-operate, bring in proportional representation and then a whole new political world begins.

This move opens up the wider strategy – to end the domination of the City, and right-wing newspapers like the Mail, so Britain can have a real debate and make real choices about what sort of economy and society it wants. A pipedream? Well, maybe. But last night the fuse was lit in Richmond Park. The progressive alliance can work.

Months before the by-election, the pressure group for a progressive alliance that I chair, Compass, the Greens, and some Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP MPs and activists, began considering this. The alternative after Brexit was staring into the void.

Then the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith stepped down over Heathrow. To be fair, he had pledged to do this, and we should have been better prepared. In the event, urgent behind-the-scenes calls were made between the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. Compass acted as the safe house. The Greens, wonderfully, clung onto democracy – the local party had to decide. And they decided to stand up for a new politics. Andree Frieze would have been the Green candidate, and enjoyed her moment in the autumn sun. She and her party turned it down for a greater good. So did the Women’s Equality Party.

Meanwhile, what about Labour? Last time, they came a distant third. Again the phones were hit and meetings held. There was growing support not to stand. But what would they get back from the Liberal Democrats, and what did the rules say about not standing? It was getting close to the wire. I spent an hour after midnight, in the freezing cold of Aberdeen, on the phone to a sympathetic Labour MP trying to work out what the party rule book said before the selection meeting.

At the meeting, I am told, a move was made from the floor not to select. The London regional official ruled it out of order and said a candidate would be imposed if they didn’t select. Some members walked out at this point. Where was the new kinder, gentler politics? Where was membership democracy? Fast forward to last night, and the Labour candidate got less votes than the party has members.

The idea of a progressive alliance in Richmond was then cemented in a draughty church hall on the first Tuesday of the campaign – the Unitarian Church of course. Within 48 hours notice, 200 local activist of all parties and none had come together to hear the case for a progressive alliance. Both the Greens and Compass produced literature to make the case for voting for the best-placed progressive candidate. The Liberal Democrats wove their by-election magic. And together we won.

It’s a small victory – but it shows what is possible. Labour is going to have to think very hard whether it wants to stay outside of this, when so many MPs and members see it as common sense. The lurch to the right has to be stopped – a progressive alliance, in which Labour is the biggest tent in the campsite, is the only hope.

In the New Year, the Progressive Alliance will be officially launched with a steering committee, website and activists tool-kit. There will also be a trained by-election hit squad, manifestos of ideas and alliances build locally and across civil society.

There are lots of problems that lie ahead - Labour tribalism, the 52 per cent versus the 48 per cent, Scottish independence and the rest. But there were lots of problems in Richmond Park, and we overcame them. And you know, working together felt good – it felt like the future. The Tories, Ukip and Arron Banks want a different future – a regressive alliance. We have to do better than them. On Thursday, we showed we could.

Could the progressive alliance be the start of the new politics we have all hoped for?

Neal Lawson is the Chair of Compass, the pressure group for the progressive alliance.

Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass, which brings together progressives from all parties and none. His views on internal Labour matters are personal ones.