Need to distract everyone from the NHS funding crisis? Blame foreigners

Shadow health secretary Diane Abbott says the Tories are trying to avoid the real problems we face. 

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Jeremy Hunt told the Tory party conference that he was aiming for "self-sufficiency" in UK-trained doctors before the end of the next parliament. There are 100,000 overseas doctors working in the UK, so this can only be a reactionary fantasy taken from the Hard Brexiter’s myth book. His additional training places for doctors are just a fraction of what are required to plug existing and projected shortages, let alone replace the vital contribution from overseas health professionals.

But this is not an isolated example. The team around Theresa May at the  Home Office, which infamously gave us the "Go home" vans during the election campaign, is now leading Government policy. Amber Rudd, May's replacement as home secretary, announced that companies would be made to publish lists of overseas workers, named and shamed for employing people. This is reinforced by the rhetoric of the anti-foreigner wing of the Tory party. Liam Fox even argued that providing any guarantees for existing EU workers would be to "hand over one of our main cards".

This was the explicit, reactionary thread running through the whole of the Tory party conference. But we should be clear. This is not an agenda which can address the chaos in British society and politics following the referendum. It is an anti-foreigner distraction.

The crisis of NHS funding? Blame foreigners. How will we secure funding for our universities? Blame foreigners. How do we address the crisis of productivity and low wages? Blame foreigners. The litany is as endless as it is nauseating.

It will not work. It will be catastrophic for our trade, for public services and for business. The Institute of Directors points out a simple truth - there are record numbers in employment and close to record low unemployment, “so immigration is not hurting jobs”. It says this issue “will continue to be a major bone of contention between companies and this government.” Just like David Cameron before her, May is putting the need to manage her party before the objective needs of the British economy, only on an even more right-wing line. 

I am proud to say that Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to Labour party conference has placed us on completely the opposite path. He argued that low wages are caused by exploitative employers not immigrants, that the NHS only works because of immigrant workers, that the housing crisis is caused by the failure to build under the Tories. 

In an increasingly globalised economy, we should be attracting the most talented individuals from around the world, not driving them away. Targeting international students, migrant doctors and forcing businesses to publish lists of foreign workers, will create division, tension and only make us poorer. Migrant workers are a benefit to the economy and essential to services like the NHS. 

The Tories are acting against the best interests of the overwhelming majority of society. Their anti-foreigner agenda will lose jobs and make us worse off. Businesses know we need to be in the single market and we need freedom of movement. The communities secretary Sajid Javid himself is even asking for an exemption for the construction sector

Labour will not harm the economy just to appease anti-immigrant feeling. We will stand up for the interests of the majority, defending membership of single market, demand the workers’ right to freedom of movement. We can and must reject this reactionary Tory agenda.

Diane Abbott is Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, and shadow home secretary. She was previously shadow secretary for health.