In his interviews yesterday and today, Ed Miliband was careful to avoid condemning Nigel Farage as a “racist” for his comments on Romanians. He described the remark (suggesting that people should be worried if Romanians moved next door to them) as “a racial slur” but added: “I don’t think of Nigel Farage as a racist himself”. After working hard to dispel the perception that Labour regards anyone concerned about immigration as a “bigot”, it is not hard to see why Miliband is reluctant to attack the Ukip leader in such terms.
Rather than denouncing Farage for his stance on foreigners, Miliband has focused on criticising him as “more Thatcherite than Thatcher”, highlighting his past support for a flat tax, GP charges and the abolition of maternity and paternity leave.
But there are many in Labour, including in the shadow cabinet, who would like Miliband to offer a less ambiguous condemnation of the Ukip leader’s remarks. In interviews today, David Lammy and Yvette Cooper have both been blunter in their criticism. Lammy told the Daily Politics: “What Nigel Farage said over the weekend was racist. So I’m clear, he’s a racist. I am from a background where my parents arrived here as immigrants. I remember a context in which some people said: ‘You don’t want these people living next door to you.’ That was racist.”
Cooper later told ITV News: “It’s not racist to be worried about immigration or to want stronger controls, but it is racist to somehow stir up fears about Romanians living next door. So Ukip should say they were wrong on that.” As the Labour figure responsible for immigration policy, her intervention was significant.
It’s worth noting, however, that Lammy himself said it was not worth getting into a “pedantic discussion of the difference between a racial slur and racism.” But their comments will still increase the pressure on Miliband to explain why he does not regard Farage as a racist, rather than merely why it is not helpful to do so.