Before and after: how Chris Bryant's speech on immigration was changed

The shadow immigration minister's disastrous morning is a lesson in the perils of pre-briefing.

After his blundering performance on the Today programme, in which he downplayed his criticism of Tesco and Next for their use of foreign workers, it was unsurprising that Chris Bryant's speech on immigration differed significantly from the pre-briefing given to the Sunday Telegraph

According to the Telegraph, the shadow immigration minister was due to say of Tesco:

Take the case of Tesco, who recently decided to move their distribution centre in Kent. The new centre is larger and employs more people, but the staff at original site, most of them British, were told that they could only move to the new centre if they took a cut in pay. The result? A large percentage of the staff at the new centre are from Eastern bloc.

But after Tesco pointed out that no such distribution centre existed in Kent and that it had recruited 350 "local people" for its new centre in Dagenham, all of whom were paid more than the minimum wage, Bryant instead said: 

Take Tesco. A good employer and an important source of jobs in Britain. They take on young people, operate apprenticeships and training schemes and often recruit unemployed or disabled staff through job centres. Yet when a distribution centre was moved to a new location existing staff said they would have lost out by transferring and the result was a higher proportion of staff from A8 countries taking up the jobs. Tesco are clear they have tried to recruit locally. And I hope they can provide more reassurance for their existing staff. But the fact that staff are raising concern shows how sensitive the issue has become.

In the case of Next, Bryant was due to say:

Look at Next PLC, who last year brought 500 Polish workers to work in their South Elmsall [West Yorkshire] warehouse for their summer sale and another 300 this summer. They were recruited in Poland and charged £50 to find them accommodation. The advantage to Next? They get to avoid Agency Workers Regulations which apply after a candidate has been employed for over 12 weeks, so Polish temps end up considerably cheaper than the local workforce which includes many former Next employees.

But after Next replied that "agency workers from Poland cost us exactly the same as local agency workers" and that "the nationality of workers in no way affects their rights under agency workers regulations", Bryant instead said:

Next PLC recruited extra temporary staff for their South Elmsall warehouse for the summer sale - last year and this year. South Elmsall is in a region with 9% unemployment and 23.8% youth unemployment. Yet several hundred people were recruited directly from Poland. The recruitment agency Next used, Flame, has its web-site, www.flamejobs.pl, entirely in Polish.  Now of course short term contracts and work are sometimes necessary in order to satisfy seasonal spikes in demand. But when agencies bring such a large number of workers of a specific nationality at a time when there are one million young unemployed in Britain it is right to ask why that is happening.

It’s not illegal for Agencies to target foreign workers. But is it fair for them to be so exclusive? Is it fair on migrant workers who can find themselves tied into agency accommodation deals? And is it good practice for the long term health of the economy when so many local young people need experience and training?

Next also say they have tried to recruit locally. But I want to see more companies providing assurances and demonstrating what they are doing to train and recruit local staff - particularly the young unemployed - even for temporary posts, rather than using agencies that only bring workers in from abroad.

The pity about today's debacle is that Bryant is undoubtedly right when he says that "unscrupulous employers" have used foreign workers to undercut their domestic counterparts. But by failing to fact-check his speech and by clumsily pre-briefing it to the Telegraph, he ensured that point would be lost today. 

Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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