Ed Miliband campaigns before the Rochester and Strood by-election earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The thinking behind Miliband's five-point plan on immigration

The Labour leader aims to position his party as the only one offering "credible" change. 

Labour wants the general election to be defined by living standards and the NHS. But with immigration rising in salience (some polls show voters now regard it as the most important issue facing the county), and David Cameron planning a major speech on the subject before Christmas, it recognises that it needs a response.

Ed Miliband's speech in Rochester and Strood today, ahead of the by-election on 20 November, offered the clearest account yet of how his party would approach this area. In his address to voters he emphasised that "our plan to make this country work for your family also includes addressing immigration" and that he had "changed" Labour's approach. He went on to outline a five-point plan that would be contained in a bill in the party's first Queen's Speech. 

Here are the five points and the thinking behind them. 

1. Stronger border controls

Miliband promised to take action "to ensure that when people cross our borders they are counted - in and out – so we know who is here, who has gone home and who has stayed so we can deal with illegal immigration." At present, as MPs of all parties complain, the Home Office doesn't know  how many foreign citizens come into the country, how many of them leave when their visa runs out, and how many don’t. By convincing the public that it has a grip on illegal immigration, one of their biggest concerns, Labour believes that it would be able to win a fairer hearing for an open migration policy. 

2. Making it illegal to exploit workers

The second pledge from Miliband was to "introduce a law to make it a criminal offence to exploit workers, wherever they come from, with the aim of illegally undercutting wages or conditions here." This is designed to address the problem of employers in industries such as agriculture and construction using migrants to drive down pay and standards for their domestic counterparts. The hope is that this would also have the side-effect of reducing the level of low-skilled migration. 

3. Banning recruitment agencies from hiring only migrants

In a continuation of this approach, Miliband vowed to ban employment agencies from recruiting only from abroad. By focusing on labour market regulation, Labour aims to tackle the root cause of public anxiety over immigration, rather than seeking to appease voters with crude caps and quotas. 

4. Requiring employers to train an apprentice for each skilled migrant

Declaring that "we will make sure opportunities are available for our young people here", Miliband restated his commitment to require large companies to train an apprentice each time they hire a skilled worker from outside the EU. This is aimed at reducing Britain's long-term dependency on skilled immigration and at creating up to 125,000 new apprenticeships over the next parliament.

The scheme would affect those foreign nationals brought in under Tier 2 of the points-based system - those offered a skilled job to fill a gap in the labour market that cannot be filled by a domestic worker. Research by Labour has shown that many recently created apprenticeships have been for low-quality courses, rather than the high-quality, German-style ones that it wants to encourage. 

5. Making public sector workers learn English

Labour recognises that the anxiety around immigration has cultural as well as economic roots. Miliband's pledge to ensure that public sector workers in public-facing roles "have minimum standards of English" is designed to address this. One strategist told me that it reflected a US-style view of the importance of language for integration. 

On the EU, which accounts for 214,000 of the 560,000 immigrants who came to Britain in the year ending March 2014, Miliband promised to seek:

- Longer transitional controls when new countries join the EU.

- Preventing child benefit and child tax credits from being paid to families living abroad.

Doubling the period before migrants would be entitled to benefits.

- Stronger rules to deal with foreign criminals.

He added that "all these changes are about controls, about tackling undercutting of wages by rogue employers and about people earning their entitlements". Labour is also likely to have more to say soon on reasserting the contributory principle in welfare: the requirement that people pay in before they get out. Strategists believe that the less toxic status of immigration in other European countries is partly due to their contribution-based social security systems. 

But as well as saying what he would do, Miliband also made it clear what he wouldn't do. In reference to David Cameron's broken pledge to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands a year" (it currently stands at 243,000), he warned that "false promises on immigration just make people more cynical about politics" and added: "I won’t be part of that. I will not make promises I can’t keep." This means Labour will not mimic Cameron's plan to try and reduce EU immigration by means of an "emergency brake", a limit on National Insurance numbers for foreign workers, or a new points-based system. 

He also reaffirmed his commitment to avoid holding an in/out EU referendum unless further powers are transferred to Brussels. He said: "I will never propose a policy or a course of action which would damage our country. Nigel Farage wants to leave the European Union on which 3 million British jobs and thousands of businesses in our country depend. Those jobs and businesses include many here in Rochester & Strood which has always traded with the world beyond.

"And Nigel Farage is not alone anymore. Now David Cameron is also saying he is ready to leave the European Union and have Britain turn its back on the rest of the world. In doing so he is creating fear and uncertainty for British businesses which may be already losing out on crucial investment because of political games being played with our national interest. I will not be a Prime Minister that puts either those jobs and businesses or our national interest at risk."

Labour aides emphasise that Miliband is not adopting a "Ukip-lite" approach - and they're right on that. The aim is to position the party between the Tories, regarded as promising undeliverable change, and the Lib Dems, regarded as lazily wedded to the status quo. With immigration likely to remain at the top of the agenda for the next few months, that strategy will soon be tested. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses