Border Force staff check a shipping containers at Southampton docks on August 13, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

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

Getty
Show Hide image

In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser