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 Telegraph, tells 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.