Labour HQ has warned its MPs not to linger on the subject of immigration. Photo: Getty
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A leaked document reveals Labour MPs have been told not to campaign on immigration

"Moving the conversation on".

A leaked document sent by Labour HQ round to some MPs and party activists reveals what we already know: talking about immigration is damaging to Labour's electoral chances.

The strategy document, called "Campaigning against Ukip", revealed by the Telegraphtells MPs that they should avoid campaigning on the subject of immigration and when voters express their concerns about it, they should focus on "moving the conversation on issues where we have clear policy" to other subjects.

MPs are also warned by the party not to send out leaflets about immigration to all voters because it could be an "unhelpful" strategy. The document acknowledges that many voters will cite the topic as a concern, but: "It does not however follow that campaigning on immigration issues and emphasising our policies in our conversations with electors is always the correct response."

This exposure of Labour's stance on immigration is embarrassing for Ed Miliband, on the morning of his big speech on immigration. It appears he's addressing this subject in the same way he approached the deficit last week: a big speech to clear up Labour's policy and to stop critics charging the party with not talking about the issue. However, just as talking about the deficit plays on the Tories' turf, talking about immigration only ever strengthens Ukip. In the document, Labour seems all too aware of this:

While it is clear that UKIP’s campaign is largely concentrated on the issue of immigration, we cannot and should not fight the UKIP threat simply on their terms, not least because we will not win a bidding war on the issue. Although immigration is an important issue for many electors, and is often mentioned on the doorstep, it is often used as a means to express other concerns. Many of these issues, including healthcare, housing, and the delivery of other local services, are among the strongest policy areas for the Labour Party. 

Although it is never helpful for a party to have its tactics out in the open, this stance on addressing immigration concerns is more wise than embarrassing. Not only is it politically useful for Labour to broaden the immigration question out to issues of housing and public services, it is also more truthful to the voter to do so.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Why is Labour surging in Wales?

A new poll suggests Labour will not be going gently into that good night. 

Well where did that come from? The first two Welsh opinion polls of the general election campaign had given the Conservatives all-time high levels of support, and suggested that they were on course for an historic breakthrough in Wales. For Labour, in its strongest of all heartlands where it has won every general election from 1922 onwards, this year had looked like a desperate rear-guard action to defend as much of what they held as possible.

But today’s new Welsh Political Barometer poll has shaken things up a bit. It shows Labour support up nine percentage points in a fortnight, to 44 percent. The Conservatives are down seven points, to 34 per cent. Having been apparently on course for major losses, the new poll suggests that Labour may even be able to make ground in Wales: on a uniform swing these figures would project Labour to regain the Gower seat they narrowly lost two years ago.

There has been a clear trend towards Labour in the Britain-wide polls in recent days, while the upwards spike in Conservative support at the start of the campaign has also eroded. Nonetheless, the turnaround in fortunes in Wales appears particularly dramatic. After we had begun to consider the prospect of a genuinely historic election, this latest reading of the public mood suggests something much more in line with the last century of Welsh electoral politics.

What has happened to change things so dramatically? One possibility is always that this is simply an outlier – the "rogue poll" that basic sampling theory suggests will happen every now and then. As us psephologists are often required to say, "it’s just one poll". It may also be, as has been suggested by former party pollster James Morris, that Labour gains across Britain are more apparent than real: a function of a rise in the propensity of Labour supporters to respond to polls.

But if we assume that the direction of change shown by this poll is correct, even if the exact magnitude may not be, what might lie behind this resurgence in Labour’s fortunes in Wales?

One factor may simply be Rhodri Morgan. Sampling for the poll started on Thursday last week – less than a day after the announcement of the death of the much-loved former First Minister. Much of Welsh media coverage of politics in the days since has, understandably, focused on sympathetic accounts of Mr Morgan’s record and legacy. It would hardly be surprising if that had had some positive impact on the poll ratings of Rhodri Morgan’s party – which, we should note, are up significantly in this new poll not only for the general election but also in voting intentions for the Welsh Assembly. If this has played a role, such a sympathy factor is likely to be short-lived: by polling day, people’s minds will probably have refocussed on the electoral choice ahead of them.

But it could also be that Labour’s campaign in Wales is working. While Labour have been making modest ground across Britain, in Wales there has been a determined effort by the party to run a separate campaign from that of the UK-wide party, under the "Welsh Labour" brand that carried them to victory in last year’s devolved election and this year’s local council contests. Today saw the launch of the Welsh Labour manifesto. Unlike two years ago, when the party’s Welsh manifesto was only a modestly Welshed-up version of the UK-wide document, the 2017 Welsh Labour manifesto is a completely separate document. At the launch, First Minister Carwyn Jones – who, despite not being a candidate in this election is fronting the Welsh Labour campaign – did not even mention Jeremy Corbyn.

Carwyn Jones also represented Labour at last week’s ITV-Wales debate – in contrast to 2015, when Labour’s spokesperson was then Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith. Jones gave an effective performance, being probably the best performer alongside Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood. In fact, Wood was also a participant in the peculiar, May-less and Corbyn-less, ITV debate in Manchester last Thursday, where she again performed capably. But her party have as yet been wholly unable to turn this public platform into support. The new Welsh poll shows Plaid Cymru down to merely nine percent. Nor are there any signs yet that the election campaign is helping the Liberal Democrats - their six percent support in the new Welsh poll puts them, almost unbelievably, at an even lower level than they secured in the disastrous election of two year ago.

This is only one poll. And the more general narrowing of the polls across Britain will likely lead to further intensification, by the Conservatives and their supporters in the press, of the idea of the election as a choice between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn as potential Prime Ministers. Even in Wales, this contrast does not play well for Labour. But parties do not dominate the politics of a nation for nearly a century, as Labour has done in Wales, just by accident. Under a strong Conservative challenge they certainly are, but Welsh Labour is not about to go gently into that good night.

Roger Scully is Professor of Political Science in the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University.

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