Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
29 October 2014updated 30 Oct 2014 5:01am

PMQs review: Miliband paints immigration as the problem – it won’t help him

The Labour leader should not acquiesce in the framing of immigration as a negative force. 

By George Eaton

Today’s PMQs saw Ed Miliband attack David Cameron on the traditionally Tory territory of the European Arrest Warrant and immigration. On the former, aware that up to 100 Conservative MPs are prepared to vote against opting back into the EAW, Miliband demanded to know when a vote would be held on a “vital tool that has helped to bring murderers, rapists and paedophiles to justice”.

After attributing Cameron’s delay to the Rochester and Strood by-election on 20 November (where the Tories stand to lose to Ukip defector Mark Reckless), he mischievously offered to use Labour’s opposition day next week. In response, the PM sprung a surprise declaring that “There’s only one problem with his second question. Which is we are going to have a vote, we’re going to have it before the Rochester by-election. His questions have just collapsed.” The logic, it would appear, is to get the rebellion out of the way before the likely defeat to Ukip, freeing Cameron to focus on unifying his party after the contest. Miliband shot back: “All I can say is I look forward to us walking through the lobby together to vote for the European Arrest Warrant, two parties working together in the national interest. Or maybe, Mr Speaker, given his backbenchers, one and a half parties working together in the national interest.”

On immigration, Miliband derided Cameron for his failure to meet his 2010 pledge to reduce net migration to “tens of thousands” a year and challenged him to reveal the level at which it now stands (243,000). The PM refused to do so, instead noting that net migration was down by a quarter from its peak under Labour and demanding that Miliband apologise for the last government’s failure to impose transitional controls on eastern european citizens and the “search parties” that were sent out to look for extra migrants. 

An unruffled Miliband kept prodding away, declaring “Why doesn’t he just own up? He broke his promise” and noting that Cameron had said in 2010: “If we don’t deliver our side of the bargain, vote us out in five years’ time.” One could justify Miliband’s line of questioning as an attempt to hold the PM accountable for a shattered pledge; the problem for Labour is that anyone listening to him would have got the impression that it was a bad thing Cameron had missed his target. In fact, the reverse is true. Britain’s economy and society are unambiguously better off for net migration having remained well above “tens of thousands” a year. It is for this reason, among others, that Labour has avoided making a similar commitment to reduce immigration – it’s just too fearful to say so. 

As a progressive, Miliband should be alive to the dangers of “immigration” becoming a permanent pejorative. If newcomers are framed as the problem, it is Ukip, not Labour, that will look like the solution. But on the evidence of today’s session, he is far too willing to accept – and even encourage – this trajectory. “Why doesn’t he just admit it? On immigration, he has failed,” Miliband declared in closing. Perhaps, but he should ask himself if he would really be happy with “success”.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Meanwhile, away from the Commons, Nigel Farage contentedly chalks up another victory.