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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Jeremy Corbyn and his opponents are now locked in a permanent struggle

Labour MPs will neither accept Corbyn’s leadership nor abandon the party if he wins again.

 

In September 2003, outraged by Tony Blair’s support for the Iraq War, Jeremy Corbyn declared in the Morning Star that there should be “an annual election for leader”. Thirteen years later, in rather different circumstances, his wish has been granted. Yet the Labour leader has little cause for regret. There is no evidence that the sequel will end differently from the original.

Having failed to force Corbyn to re-seek MP nominations (a decision being challenged in court by the Labour donor Michael Foster as the New Statesman went to press), his opponents imposed other obstacles. Those who had been members for less than six months were barred from voting. Registered supporters were required to pay £25 to participate, rather than last year’s £3. Corbyn’s foes hoped that both decisions would shrink his support base, perhaps to the point of defeat.

Yet the early indications are that he has cleared these hurdles. A YouGov poll published on 19 July found that among eligible members Corbyn would beat Owen Smith with 56 per cent of the vote to his opponent’s 34 per cent. Of the 140,000 registered supporters likely to be approved, between 55 and 75 per cent are thought to be pro-Corbyn. Although the leadership result will not be announced until 24 September, ballot papers will be distributed from 22 August. Smith, the former shadow work and pensions secretary, has less than a month to overturn Corbyn’s advantage.

The last Labour leader to face a contest was Neil Kinnock, challenged by Tony Benn in 1988. Today, the roles have been reversed. A hard-left Bennite is the incumbent, while a soft-left Welshman is the challenger. No one expects a result as resounding as that of 1988, when Kinnock prevailed with 89 per cent to Benn’s 11 per cent. Smith’s team concede that they are “the underdogs”.

It was as a “clean skin”, untainted by the Iraq War and service in the last Labour government, that the Pontypridd MP was endorsed by colleagues over Angela Eagle. But his low profile has been exploited by his opponents. Corbyn’s allies have framed Smith as a Big Pharma lobbyist (he was formerly head of policy for Pfizer) and an NHS privatiser (he suggested in 2006 that firms could provide “valuable services”). The Labour leader’s social media presence, the terrain on which party elections are now won and lost, gives him a formidable edge.

Some MPs believe that Smith should have defined himself more clearly in the six months between signalling his leadership ambitions and launching his campaign. Comparisons are drawn with Ed Miliband, who allowed his opponents to fill the vacuum following his victory in 2010.

Smith has made electability his defining dividing line with Corbyn. The leader’s supporters, however, either do not conceive of his project in such terms or regard his opponent as no more capable of winning. Victory for Smith, they fear, would precipitate a rightward shift on austerity and immigration. Some share the assessment of a shadow cabinet minister who told me that the aspirant leader would be challenged if he won. “The Blairites won’t rest until they’ve got their party back,” he said.

Corbyn’s team is confident of victory and confronts the charge of unelectability. A source spoke of the campaign as a chance to “showcase our levels of organisation” and “build a movement that can win a general election”. Labour MPs concede that they are unlikely to beat Corbyn but hope to narrow his margin of victory and win among full members. This would deny him the right to boast of an “overwhelming” mandate and grant his opponents greater legitimacy.

In any discussion of Labour’s crisis, the 1980s are invoked. But the differences are as notable as the similarities. The left today controls the leadership, rather than merely the constituencies; the trade unions are no longer right-aligned; a “one member, one vote” system has replaced the electoral college. It was in less adverse circumstances, then, that 28 Labour MPs joined the break­away Social Democratic Party in 1981. For this reason, the possibility of a new schism endlessly recurs in media debate. Yet it is not one that MPs intend to pursue.

Labour’s tribalists have no intention of leaving their party, while the more tactically minded see little potential for a new grouping to flourish. The electoral marketplace is too crowded to achieve power without coalitions, merely replicating present divisions in a new form. Theresa May’s economic interventionism further limits the space for a centre-left insurgency to occupy.

Rather than retreating, Labour MPs intend to mount repeated challenges to Corbyn. As one told me, “We only need to get lucky once. He needs to get lucky every time.” Corbyn’s allies are hopeful that some rebels will emulate Sarah Champion MP and rejoin the front bench if he wins. One suggested that the proposed boundary changes, which will be published on 13 September, would encourage discipline in order to prevent deselection by local activists. Still, most MPs have no intention of rescinding their opposition to Corbyn.

It is deselection by the electorate at large, rather than by members, that some in Labour fear most. Though May has ruled out an early contest (having privately assured backers that she would not trigger one), the temptation could prove irresistible. An ICM poll published on 26 July gave the Tories their highest lead (16 points) since 2009. Prime ministers are rarely stronger than when they first enter office, a lesson that Gordon Brown neglected fatally. But such are Labour’s divisions that May could conclude that she need not show haste. Until the members reflect the MPs, or the MPs reflect the members, unity will remain elusive. As Corbyn and his opponents contemplate a struggle with no obvious end, the prize that both seek is rapidly diminishing in value.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue