Migrants check a lorry heading to the UK in the port of Calais, 24 September. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

As an MEP, I’m ashamed of our government's stance on immigration

The government’s stance on immigration is a source of much shame for many MEPs in Europe.

The governments stance on immigration is a source of much shame for me in Europe. By falling into the UKIP trap of scapegoating immigrants for Europe's economic problems, Prime Minister David Cameron is sending out all the wrong messages about Britain. We must counteract this by talking up the reality which is that being in the EU brings massive benefits for everyone, including immigration.

I do not disagree with this week's New Statesman editorial that, “it would be foolish to deny that immigration from within the European Union and outside it brings pressures” and that “it would be foolish, too, to deny that there are abuses of the immigration system”. However, it cannot be assumed that immigrants are responsible for our faltering economy and for pressures on housing, jobs, schools, etc.

Take housing for example. I've lost count of the amount of times I've heard parents blaming immigrants for their sons and daughters having no chance of getting onto the property ladder. The fact is that we're in the worst housing crisis Britain has ever seen – and it wasn't immigrants that caused it. Politicians failed us when selling off all of our council housing, by not building enough new houses and by refusing to intervene in a housing market where houses are shuffled around as financial assets instead of providing homes for people in need. Furthermore it wasn't migrants who caused the financial crisis we've just been through – that was the bankers. 

Too often on immigration, people are forced to defend and react to scare stories so I feel that it's time to start setting the agenda. Immigration is great and we shouldn't be afraid to say it. The UK is a remarkable place because of the fact there is so much diversity in culture on display. Additionally, without migrants some of our most treasured public services such as the NHS would soon fall apart.

But what about them taking jobs away from English-born people? This is a misguided concern which has managed to make it's way right to the top of the political agenda. The answer is that there isn't actually any real evidence to suggest that migrants take jobs away from people who were born here. Writing in the Guardian, Jonathon Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, pointed out that a recent government summary of the evidence concluded there was, “little evidence in the literature of a statistically significant impact from EU migration on native employment outcomes”.

Nor do migrants seem to push down wages. “Because immigrants earn money, spend money, set up businesses and so on, it also increases the demand for labour.” Therefore, increased wages will have to come from government – which is why my party are calling for a £10 minimum wage by 2020, in comparison to Ed Miliband's timid call for £8 by 2020.

Freedom of movement is a massive benefit of being in the EU which is open for everyone to enjoy. Can you imagine the fuss that would be caused if as part of a revised relationship with the EU, people were told they could no longer take their annual summer holiday in France? For me, hopping across the border with my fellow UK MEPs for work at the European Parliament in Brussels is a great experience and opportunity which I would not want to lose out on. I'm sure British people living permanently in other countries would tell you the same thing. 

The departing President of the European Commission Jose Manual Barroso was right to warn us over the weekend of the potential illegality of capping migrant numbers and why leaving the EU will not work in our favour. The challenge for everyone else now is to not shy away from talking up the benefits of immigration and of the wider EU project. Of course some reform of the EU is needed, like for a start stopping TTIP  but keeping freedom of movement is a no-brainer.

Keith Taylor is the Green MEP for South East England

NS
Show Hide image

Labour is condemned to watch helplessly as Theresa May consolidates power

The Zombie Party is too weak to win and too strong to die. 

Labour’s defeat to the Tories in the Copeland by-election in Cumbria, which the party had held for more than 80 years, is a humiliation for Jeremy Corbyn and his moribund party. This is the first time a governing party had gained a seat in a by-election since Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives won Mitchum and Morden in 1982. 
 
The victorious candidate Trudy Harrison, who increased the Tories’ share of the vote in this former Labour “stronghold" by more than 8 percentage points, hailed the victory as “truly historic”, while Labour MP John Woodcock called it a “disaster”, and even the shadow chancellor and Corbyn ally, John McDonnell, conceded it was a “profound disappointment”. 
 
At a time in the electoral cycle when a credible opposition should be winning by-elections and riding high in the polls, Labour is in disarray: rejected, humiliated, ridiculed. It has all but collapsed in Scotland, where the Tory leader Ruth Davidson has emerged as the popular, unapologetic leader of Unionism. And in England the danger now is not that it will lose seats to Ukip — whose leader Paul Nuttall was rejected yesterday in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election, which Labour held on a low turn-out after a dispiriting campaign — but to Theresa May’s Conservatives. 
 
The Copeland result was a vindication for Theresa May. When recently I interviewed her in Downing Street she had a simple message for Labour: we are coming after your voters – and she is. 
 
Because of its embrace of the radical left and internal divisions, May accused Labour of abandoning many of its traditional supporters. The party was not responding to their concerns on issues such as “the impact of immigration on lower income levels”.
 
True enough: Corbyn favours mass immigration and open borders yet is an economic protectionist – a classic Marxist position but electoral suicide in our new emerging post-liberal era in which populist movements are rising across Europe and an America First nationalist is in the White House.
 
“I hope there are Labour voters,” Theresa May told me, “out there who will now look at us afresh and say, ‘Labour hasn’t responded to our concerns, it hasn’t recognised what matters to us, but the Conservatives have seen that and are responding to it. I want our greater prosperity not to be confined to particular groups of people or a single part of the country.”
 
The polls suggest that more than simply disaffected Labour voters are looking at the Tories afresh, as we embark on the epic challenge of negotiating the Brexit settlement.
  
May believes that Brexit was not only a vote to leave the European Union but a demand for change from those people – many of them in places such as Copeland - who felt ignored and excluded from prosperity and greater opportunity.
 
Her vision is for a “Great Meritocracy” (whereas Corbyn’s is for a socialist republic) combining greater social justice with enhanced social mobility. It’s an intellectually fascinating and ambitious project and, if successful (and many doubt her, not least her own right wing), it has the potential to condemn Labour to electoral oblivion.
    
The collapse of the Labour party as a stable and credible political force is dismaying. Many of the party’s problems precede Corbyn, who is sincere and determined but is not a national leader. But then neither was Ed Miliband, who misunderstood the financial crisis, which he believed had created a “social democratic moment”, and misread the country he sought to govern. Miliband treated politics like an elevated Oxbridge PPE seminar and introduced the new rules by which the party elected its leader, disempowering MPs.
 
The distinguished Cambridge historian Robert Tombs has called the European Union a system of “managed discontents”. Something similar could be said of Corbyn’s Labour, except that its discontents are scarcely managed at all.

Most Labour MPs despise or are embarrassed by their leader. The MPs are divided and demoralised, with some pondering whether to follow Tristram Hunt and Jamie Reed (whose resignations created respectively the Stoke Central and Copeland by-elections) out of politics. The Corbynites are breaking up into factions (one hears talk of “hard” and “soft” Corbynites), and Corbyn himself is incapable of appealing to those who do not share his ideological convictions.
 
For now, the Labour leader retains the support of activists and members and, crucially, of Unite, Britain’s biggest union and the party’s paymaster. But even his friends must accept that he is leading the party in only one direction – into the abyss.
 
On the eve of the two by-elections, Corbyn posted a message on Facebook: “Whatever the results, the Labour Party – and our mass membership – must go further to break the failed political consensus, and win power to rebuild and transform Britain.”
 
The statement was received with derision on social media. The idea that Labour can win power any time soon (notwithstanding some black swan event) is magical thinking. Corbyn’s personal ratings among traditional working class semi-skilled and unskilled Labour voters are catastrophically poor. He appeals to students, affluent metropolitans with degrees, and minority groups. As for the majority of the electorate, forget it.
 
MPs are reluctant to challenge Jeremy Corbyn because they know any leadership contest would revitalize his leadership, as happened last summer when the Welsh MP Owen Smith mounted an ill-considered and doomed “coup”. Nor is there a pre-eminent candidate waiting in the shadows to strike, as Michael Heseltine was in the last years of the Thatcher administration.
 
So Labour will continue to be the Zombie Party: too weak to win but too strong to die. Its founding mission was to defend the labour interest and to create a fairer, more ethical society. But Labour has lost its role, its confidence and sense of purpose. Obsessed by identity liberalism, bewildered by Brexit and led by a radical socialist, Labour can only look on helplessly as the Tories start to win seats in its former heartlands and hunker down for another decade or more in power.

This column was originally published in the London Evening Standard.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.