Border Force staff check a shipping containers at Southampton docks on August 13, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour will take a progressive approach to immigration. But we must address people's concerns

A stronger and fairer system is the right response to both the positives and negatives immigration can bring.

When I talk to people across the country, one of the main issues they raise with me is immigration. Most people don't want to see us close our borders, pull up the drawbridge and cut ourselves off from the world. Most people recognise immigration is - and will continue to be - important to Britain. But they are concerned about some of the impact it has had on their local community. They are worried, for example, about the impact on their wages, on the number of local jobs available and on the NHS, schools and housing. And the truth is that, for a long time, politicians did not recognise or talk enough about these legitimate concerns.

But Labour has recognised this, and recent speeches from Ed Milliband and Yvette Cooper and the announcements the party has made this week on strengthening our borders, arguing for reform in Europe to make the system fairer and tackling the undercutting of jobs and wagers in our labour market are just the latest in our responses to people’s concerns, and in us looking at the facts and setting out a plan of action to make immigration work better for everyone.

Immigration is important to Britain, and Labour will not shy away from making that case. Our country has benefited over centuries from the hard work, skills and creativity of people who have come here to start businesses, work in our NHS, our armed forces, or study In our universities. But we also know immigration but needs to be managed and controlled so the system is fair.

The Tories' approach simply isn't working. David Cameron’s promise to get net migration down to the “tens of thousands”. But net migration is at the same level now as it was in 2010 - over 200,000. So this is just another broken promise from the Prime Minister, which undermines people’s trust in politicians to keep their word on immigration. 

And Ukip’s approach is worse; they would make it harder to tackle illegal immigration and deport foreign criminals by stopping us working closely with our partners across Europe, not to mention the recent offensive suggestions that they might want to repatriate people living here already.

So Labour want a different approach built on our values. We want to welcome the international talent and trade we need for our country to thrive and grow. But we do need to strengthen our borders and introduce clear and enforceable rules so we can do more to tackle illegal immigration and ensure people who come to our country contribute. There is no contradiction in those approaches, and both are vital in building an immigration system that commands the public’s trust.

We believe the system does need to change. At the moment we don’t know who has come here and who has left, so it is very difficult to know how many people are illegally overstaying their visas or remain here after failed asylum applications. We would introduce a new system so we can count people in and out of the country. And Labour would also make it easier to deport people who come here and commit crimes.

It isn’t fair that people can come to our country and claim child benefit and child tax credits for children living abroad.  So we would stop that, and we would significantly extend the period before people can claim benefits. This is key because it’s about ensuring taxypayers' money is used fairly; it can’t be right that children who aren’t in the UK are benefiting from British social security spending.

And we need much stronger action to stop employers who are exploiting cheap migrant labour to undercut wages and jobs - stopping agencies who are only recruiting from abroad, or firms that are exploiting zero-hours contracts or not paying the minimum wage. The Tories and Ukip at their core don’t believe in helping and protecting workers, so no other party is even talking about that, let alone introducing policies to tackle it. 

Labour wants to see progressive immigration system - but that has to recognise that the immigration we’ve experienced in the past 20 years has had some negative effects, particularly for those in low-skilled and low-paid work.  These are the people for whom the Labour Party was first formed, and it isn’t progressive to gloss over their experiences and concerns. Managed migration that stops these negative effects by changing the immigration system to be stronger and fairer is the only progressive response to both the positives and negatives immigration can bring. 

So at this election it should be clear that Labour will not follow the escalation of rhetoric offered by those on the right.  We will offer a different approach to immigration. A progressive approach built on our principles, an immigration system that is good for Britain; and one that makes immigration work for all.

David Hanson is Labour MP for Delyn and shadow Home Office minister

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide