Ed Miliband delivers a speech on the deficit to business leaders on December 11, 2014 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Miliband turns focus to immigration as Labour continues drive to address weaknesses

Labour leader promises a new law banning employers from undercutting workers' wages and conditions by exploiting migrants. 

After his speech last week on the deficit, Ed Miliband will deliver one on immigration today, another issue which Labour acknowledges it needs to improve its standing on. The strategic aim is to address the party's weaknesses now, clearing space to return to its strengths (the NHS and living standards) in the new year. "We're on the pitch on the deficit and on immigration," one aide told me. 

After last week's promise to cut borrowing every year, Miliband will unveil the second of Labour's election pledges. The speech will be made in Great Yarmouth, one of the party's 106 target seats and a three-way fight between themselves, the Tories and Ukip. In the Q&A that follows, Miliband will take questions from an audience of undecided voters. 

The headline announcement is a pledge to pass a new law making it a criminal offence for employers to undercut workers' wages and conditions by exploiting migrants. One strategist described it to me as a "uniquely Labour" approach to the issue with neither the Tories nor Ukip prepared to regulate the labour market in this manner. Miliband will say tomorrow: 

We are serving notice on employers who bring workers here under duress or on false terms and pay them significantly lower wages, with worse terms and conditions.

This new criminal offence will provide protection to everyone. It will help ensure that, when immigrants work here, they do not face exploitation themselves and rogue employers are stopped from undercutting the terms and conditions of everyone else.

The choice at the next election is whether we change our economy to make it work for everyday people or carry on with an approach which means it works only for a privileged few at the top. We can’t do that unless we deal with the undercutting of wages which is made possible by the exploitation of migrant workers.

Neither the Tories nor Ukip will do any of this.

They turn a blind eye to exploitation and undercutting because it is part of the low skill, low wage, fast-buck economy they think Britain needs to succeed.

 We won’t make false promises on immigration, like David Cameron.

And we won’t offer false solutions like Ukip—leaving the European union would be a disaster for jobs, business and families.

Instead, we will offer clear, credible and concrete solutions which help build a country that works for working people again.

To prove that a criminal offence has been committed, evidence would have to be provided that some abuse of power had occurred and that migrants were employed on significantly different terms to local workers. The proposed new law is modelled on one in Germany, where section 233 of the Criminal Code states that employers may not impose "working conditions that are in clear discrepancy to those of other workers performing the same or a similar activity". 

The pledge forms part of a broader plan to bring fairness to the labour market by increasing fines for companies that pay below the minimum wage, closing loopholes in agency worker laws that allow firms to undercut directly-employed staff and banning recruitment agencies from hiring only from abroad. It represents the third leg of what one strategist described as the party's "I-C-E" approach to immigration: Integration (requiring foreign workers to learn English), Contribution (limiting migrants' access to benefits until they have paid in) and Ending Exploitation. 

With these policies, Miliband, who will remind his audience that he is the son of refugees, believes he has found a way to address the issue that is consistent with his values and principles. He is also determined not to commit David Cameron's error of making unachievable promises such as reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year. Indeed, Cameron's failure to meet his pledge (having previously invited voters to "kick" the Tories out if he fell short) is one reason why Labour is more confident of fighting on this territory.  

But while most Labour MPs are content with the party's stance on immigration, some believe Miliband remains overly preoccupied with labour market regulation - a traditional cause of the left - to the detriment of more populist issues such as border control. They would like a clearer message around reducing the number of low-skilled migrants and protecting Britain from foreign criminals (policy issues Yvette Cooper raised yesterday). But Miliband's speech is an indication that, for both policy and political reasons, he intends to maintain his focus on the economic dimension of immigration. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.