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Miliband will follow Blair's advice on an EU referendum but not on immigration

He has broken unambiguously with the open borders stance adopted by the former PM.

The Labour leader has broken with the open borders stance adopted by the former PM.
Tony Blair talks with Ed Miliband during a Loyal Address service to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Hall in London on March 20, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

"The Master", as some Conservative ministers like to refer to him, emerged on the Today programme this morning to offer his response to Ukip's "political earthquake". Tony Blair advised Ed Miliband to "stay firm" by refusing to match David Cameron's guarantee of an in/out EU referendum and implied that the Labour leader was wrong to have apologised for his party's failure to impose transitional controls on eastern European immigration.

He said: "I personally would very strongly support the position we took, both in Europe and in immigration more generally. Remember, I fought the 2005 election on a campaign against immigration from the then Conservative leader."

Miliband certainly agrees with Blair on the first point. As I've previously reported, he will not bow to pressure from some Labour MPs to change his stance on an EU referendum (which is to only hold a vote in the unlikely event of a further transfer of powers to Brussels). Miliband rightly believes that he would derive little or no political benefit from doing so (the issue is not a primary concern even for Ukip voters) and is not prepared to risk the opening years of his premiership being dominated by a referendum that he could lose (an event that would almost certainly force his resignation).

But he will not be taking Blair's advice on immigration. Miliband has abandoned the globalist, open borders stance adopted by Blair in favour of a Blue Labour position that supports greater regulation of labour markets as well as of financial markets. Having apologised for Labour's failure to control eastern European immigration in the past (an issue that rose dramatically in significance after Blair's departure from office) , he has pledged to apply the "maximum transitional controls" to future member states. Alongside this, he has vowed to ban recruitment agencies from only advertising for migrant workers and to require large domestic firms to train a British apprentice for each worker they employ from outside the EU.  The stance advocated by Blair - a full-throated defence of the benefits of high immigration and EU integration - is identical to that taken by Nick Clegg; it would prove politically suicidal for Labour.

Where Miliband has also departed from Blairism is in supporting greater market intervention to address the problems - stagnant wages, extortionate prices and excessive rents - for which anxiety over immigration is frequently a proxy.  Expect to hear more on the need for change when the Labour leader gives his first substantial response to the local and European election results in Thurrock (the scene of a Ukip victory over Labour last week) today.