Better buy one quick. I hear there's a quota.
Show Hide image

Labour's anti-immigrant mug: the worst part is, it isn't a gaffe

The party is under fire for its latest round of mugs. But the problem is bigger than a bargain-basement bit of crockery.

Labour has come under fire from its own activists after releasing a branded mug that promises “Controls on immigration”. The troublesome cup is being condemned as unspeakably naff at best and outright racist at worst.  The worst part is, it isn’t a gaffe.

A Labour spinner tells ITV News, not unreasonably: "Labour has five election pledges. This is one of the election pledges." To which the only response is: yes. That’s exactly the problem. Five years after Ed Miliband was elected on a promise to take Britain to the left, and three years after telling the New Statesman that this was a “centre-left moment”, the only one of Labour’s pledges that excites anyone is a pledge to "control immigration".

The case for Labour’s defence is this: large majorities of the public think that immigration is out of control. Labour’s biggest mistake according to the average voter wasn’t the war in Iraq – it was the party’s failure to manage migration. That’s why, when asked to describe New Labour’s biggest mistakes during that first debate, Miliband settled on immigration. That’s why he promises to “bear down” on immigration, and his party’s latest fundraising wheeze is to sell mugs promising illusory “controls” on migration.

That’s why, privately, Labour strategists are relaxed about a few bruised feelings among lefty activists on Twitter.

Just one teeny-tiny fly in the ointment: it doesn’t seem to be working. Increasingly rancorous language about migrants and benefits has done nothing to secure Labour’s increasingly alarming position in the polls. If anyone can be said to have “won” from the party’s vituperative rhetoric, it is the surging Greens. 

The big problem for Labour is that the party obviously doesn’t believe what its saying; Miliband looks uncomfortable and unhappy whenever he attacks immigration, and its actual policy – a two-year wait before any new arrival can claim benefits – won’t do anything to turn migrants away.

It’s the promise of work, not the United Kingdom’s less-than-generous welfare system, that attracts newcomers to Britain, and as anyone who has tried to come to Britain in recent years, the United Kingdom already has fairly stringent controls on immigration. My colleague Anoosh recently interviewed Miwa Hirono, a globally-respected academic, who is now being deported as a result of those same laws. And as NS political editor George Eaton has noted, the higher migration figures of recent years are actually a sign of economic success, not failure, on the part of government.

Worse still, the only way that Labour can actually achieve its headline policy – of “controlling” immigration – is to leave the European Union, with all the possible consequences for the British and European economy that would have.

Frankly, Labour has two choices. It can make a brave argument for the benefits of an open economy and the value of migration – as Alex Salmond did in his recent interview with our editor, Jason Cowley – or it can continue to go down the Ukip path of promising ever greater barriers on migration, and even more punitive measures for the people who make it past those barriers.

The trouble with going down Ukip’s path is, eventually, you have to have Ukip’s solution, because if immigration really is as bad as Ed Miliband says it is, the only way is Brexit. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Shock Wales YouGov poll shows that Labour's Ukip nightmare is coming true

The fear that voting Ukip would prove a gateway drug for Labour voters appears to be being borne out. 

An astonishing new poll for the Cardiff University Governance Centre and ITV Cymru shows a historic result: the Conservatives ending a 167-year wait for an election victory in Wales.

The numbers that matter:

Conservatives: 40 per cent

Labour: 30 per cent

Plaid Cymru: 13 per cent

Liberal Democrats: 8 per cent

Ukip: 6 per cent

Others: 3 per cent

And for context, here’s what happened in 2015:

Labour 36.9 per cent

Conservatives 27.2 per cent

Ukip 13.6 per cent

Plaid Cymru 12.1 per cent

Liberal Democrat 6.5 per cent

Others 2.6 per cent

There’s a lot to note here. If repeated at a general election, this would mean Labour losing an election in Wales for the first time since the First World War. In addition to losing the popular vote, they would shed ten seats to the Tories.

We're talking about a far more significant reverse than merely losing the next election. 

I don’t want to detract from how bad the Labour performance is in a vacuum – they have lost 6.9 per cent of their vote on 2015, in any case the worst election performance for Labour in Wales since the rout of 1983.  But the really terrifying thing for Labour is not what is happening to their own vote, though that is pretty terrifying.

It’s what’s happened to the Conservative vote – growing in almost every direction. There is some direct Labour to Tory slippage. But the big problem is the longtime fear of Labour MPs – that voting for Ukip would be a gateway drug to voting for the mainstream right – appears to be being realised. Don't forget that most of the Ukip vote in Wales is drawn from people who voted Labour in 2010. (The unnoticed shift of the 2010-5 parliament in a lot of places was a big chunk of the Labour 2010 vote went to Ukip, but was replaced by a chunk of the 2010 Liberal Democrat vote.) 

If repeated across the United Kingdom, the Tory landslide will be larger than the 114 majority suggested by the polls and a simple national swing.

As I’ve said before, polls are useful, but they are not the be-all and end-all. The bad news is that this very much supports the pattern at elections since the referendum – Labour falling back, the Tories losing some votes to the Liberal Democrats but more than making up the loss thanks to the collapse of Ukip.

The word from Welsh Labour is that these figures “look about right” at least as far as the drop in the Labour vote, though of course they have no idea what is going on with their opponents’ vote share. As for the Conservatives, their early experiences on the doorstep do show the Ukip vote collapsing to their benefit.

One Labour MP said to me a few days again that they knew their vote was holding up – what they didn’t know was what was happening to their opponents. That’s particularly significant if you have a “safe seat” but less than 50 per cent of the vote.

Wales has local elections throughout the country on 4 May. They should provide an early sign whether these world-shaking figures are really true. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496