Ed Miliband speaks at the launch of Labour's local and European election campaign. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour has changed on immigration - we recognise the public was right

By acknowledging where we went wrong and setting out a different approach, Ed Miliband has given us a route back into the national conversation.

It is almost four years ago to the day that Ed Miliband launched his campaign to be leader of the Labour Party. I was proud to support him back then because I believed - and still do - that he was the one person with the vision, strength and energy to do the impossible, and lead our party back into government within a single term. I sincerely believe that time will prove my belief right.

What gives me confidence is that Ed is someone who is prepared to acknowledge where Labour got things wrong and to change our approach. He understands that after 13 years in government, on some issues, we were just wrong - and there is no better example of that than on immigration.

My parents came here from Pakistan in the 1960s so I'm well placed to talk on the subject. They worked hard - my dad as a bus driver, my mum as a seamstress - paying their taxes, saving up to buy a home and seeing their children thrive, going to university and into successful and varied careers. Britain became their home, giving them a safe and prosperous community in which to live. Such an upbringing helped make it possible for me to to become the Member of Parliament for my boyhood home of Tooting.

Our story shows that in Britain, anything is possible. I believe that my family's story shows that when managed properly, immigration can benefit everyone in our society. It benefits those coming here to try to build a better future for their families - and to give them the opportunities that my parents, my siblings and I have experienced in this country. It also benefits the rest of the country. My dad worked and contributed to our economy for more than 25 years. One of my brothers set up a thriving business that has created jobs and wealth. My other siblings have spent a lifetime supporting the public sector. In my case, I entered politics.

This is the way immigration should work at its best. However, I know that immigration is a big concern for many voters and I recognise that we - the Labour Party - are partly to blame for this. In the past, when people told us about their worries, we too often dismissed them - and, worse, some said that legitimate concerns were based on prejudice. We all remember Gillian Duffy. When people told us they were worried about the pace of change in their community, or about their wages being squeezed, we were too quick to say they were stuck in the past - that they needed to change their views, when in reality it was us that were stuck in our ways.

Under Ed Miliband's leadership, things are different. We recognise that the public was right. It is no exaggeration to say that Ed has led Labour on a journey of change on immigration. It would have been all too easy to just carry on as we were - refusing to talk about immigration and hoping the issue went away. The path of least resistance. But Ed was right not to let that happen. By acknowledging where we went wrong and setting out a different approach, he has given us a route back into the national conversation on immigration.

We will never pander to those who say we can or should turn our backs on the world and pull up the drawbridge. That is not the Labour way and goes against the basic values of fairness and internationalism that are at the heart of our beliefs. Unlike other parties, we will not make promises that we can't deliver, simply to curry favour. Instead, we are setting out practical solutions that will make a difference. That starts with the change we need to see within the EU.

As Ed and Douglas Alexander have said, we would negotiate longer controls for new countries, So that workers have to wait longer until they can come to work. We need to act on people's sense of fairness. We will make it a priority to change the rules on child benefit and child tax credit, so that money doesn't go to support kids who don't live in this country. We also need to stop a race to the bottom between British citizens and workers coming here from abroad. Businesses in Britain like being able to hire people from across the EU. We support that right but it must not become a green light for undercutting wages.

So we will strengthen the law to crack down on employers not paying the minimum wage. We will stop recruitment agencies who hire exclusively from abroad, advertising jobs in foreign languages only. We will close loopholes that allow agency workers to be used as a way to undercut wages and conditions of permanent staff. And we want employers to train up and invest in the next generation. Under a Labour government, any company bringing in skilled workers from outside the EU, will have a legal duty to provide apprenticeships to the next generation.

It is important that people who do come move to our country integrate into our society, as my parents, siblings and I did in the 1960s. The English language should be a passport to a better job and a happier life. That's why we would prioritise the learning of English, and have a new rule that anyone working face to face with the public in our NHS or local councils would have to be able to speak the language. It would benefit everyone - those immigrants who would find it easier to play a full role in our society and economy and also the rest of society.

Some people want to go further and say we should get out of the EU. There is real discontent in our country right now and immigration has become the symbol of that dissatisfaction. Ed has made it his mission as Labour leader to provide real answers to this discontent. Our openness, diversity and commitment to playing an active role in the world around us can help us build a more prosperous country. But this only works - and only benefits everyone - if we do it in a way that advances, and doesn't hold back, people's ability to build a better life for themselves and their families.

Sadiq Khan is MP for Tooting, shadow justice secretary and shadow minister for London.
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How English identity politics will shape the 2017 general election

"English" voters are more likely to vote Conservative and Ukip. But the Tories are playing identity politics in Scotland and Wales too. 

Recent polls have challenged some widely shared assumptions about the direction of UK elections. For some time each part of the UK has seemed to be evolving quite distinctly. Different political cultures in each nation were contested by different political parties and with different parties emerging victorious in each.

This view is now being challenged. Early general election surveys that show the Tories leading in Wales and taking up to a third of the vote in Scotland. At first sight, this looks a lot more like 1997 (though less enjoyable for Labour): an increasingly hegemonic mainland party only challenged sporadically and in certain places.

Is this, then, a return to "politics as normal"? Perhaps the Tories are becoming, once again, the Conservative and Unionist Party. Maybe identity politics is getting back into its box post Brexit, the decline of Ukip, and weak support for a second independence referendum. We won’t really know until the election is over. However, I doubt that we’ve seen the back of identity politics. It may actually bite more sharply than ever before.

Although there’s talk about "identity politics" as a new phenomenon, most votes have always been cast on a sense of "who do I identify with?" or "who will stand up for someone like us?" Many voters take little notice of the ideology and policy beloved of activists, often voting against their "objective interests" to support a party they trust. The new "identity politics" simply reflects the breakdown of long-established political identities, which were in turn based on social class and collective experiences. In their place, come new identities based around people, nations and place. Brexit was never really about the technocratic calculation of profit and loss, but about what sort of country we are becoming, and what we want to be. 

Most social democratic parties in Europe are struggling with this change. Labour is no different. At the start of the general election, it faces a perfect storm of changing identities. Its relationship with working-class voters continues to decline. This is not because the working class has disappeared, but because old industries, with their large workplaces, shared communities and strong unions are no longer there to generate a labour identity. 

Labour is badly adrift in England. The English electorate has become increasingly assertive (and increasingly English). The Brexit vote was most strongly endorsed by the voters who felt most intensely English. In the previous year’s general election, it was fear of Scottish National Party influence on a Labour minority government that almost certainly gave the Tories the English seats needed for an overall majority. In that same election, Labour’s support amongst "English only" voters was half its support amongst "British only" voters. The more "English" the voters, the more likely they were to vote Ukip or Conservative. It shouldn’t be a surprise if Ukip voters now go Tory. Those who think that Ukip somehow groomed Labour voters to become Tories are missing the crucial role that identity may be playing.

So strong are these issues that, until recently, it looked as though the next election - whenever it was called - would be an English election - fought almost entirely in English battlegrounds, on English issues, and by a Tory party that was, increasingly, an English National Conservative Party in all but name. Two powerful identity issues are confounding that assumption.

Brexit has brought a distinctly British issue into play. It is enabling the Tories to consolidate support as the Brexit party in England, and at the same time reach many Leave voters in Wales, and maybe Scotland too. This serendipitous consequence of David Cameron’s referendum doesn’t mean the Tories are yet fully transformed. The Conservative Party in England is indeed increasingly focused on England. Its members believe devolution has harmed England and are remarkably sanguine about a break up of the union. But the new ability to appeal to Leave voters outside England is a further problem for Labour. The Brexit issue also cuts both ways. Without a clear appeal cutting through to Leave and Remain voters, Labour will be under pressure from both sides.

North of the border, the Tories seemed to have found - by accident or design - the way to articulate a familial relationship between the party in Scotland and the party in England. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson appears to combine conservatism, unionism and distance from English politics more successfully than Scottish Labour, which must ride the two horses of "near home rule" and committed unionism. Scottish Labour has a perfectly good call for a reformed union, but it is undermined by the failure of Labour in England to mobilise enough popular support to make the prospect credible.

Identity politics is not, of course, the be all and end all of politics. Plenty of voters do cast their ballots on the traditional tests of leadership, economic competence, and policy. Labour’s campaign will have to make big inroads here too. But, paradoxically, Labour’s best chance of a strong result lies in taking identity politics head on, and not trying to shift the conversation onto bread and butter policy, as the leaked "talking points" seem to suggest. Plenty of voters will worry what Theresa May would do with the untrammelled power she seeks. Challenging her right or ability to speak for the nation, as Keir Starmer has done, is Labour’s best bet.

 

John Denham was a Labour MP from 1992 to 2015, and a Secretary of State 2007 to 2010. He is Director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Winchester University

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