New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Election 2024
  2. The Staggers
17 November 2016

Team Corbyn’s secret weapon: border control

The victories for Donald Trump and the Brexit campaign have added to the feelgood factor around the leader. 

By Stephen Bush

There’s a spring in the step around Jeremy Corbyn and his team these days.

In part, that’s because of front-of-house changes. The new shadow cabinet is a mixture of old loyalists and those who have proven their willingness to get along, and meetings are, on the whole, a more congenial affair than they were with the old shadow cabinet. Nick Brown, meanwhile, is considered a “dream appointment” by the leader’s allies.

The younger generation favoured Ian Lavery, a former trade union official first elected in 2010, but Corbyn, as well as John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, personally favoured Brown, as they know him well from their time as perpetual rebels under New Labour.  As one person familiar with their thinking quipped of Brown: “He’s done it before and he hates Blairites. What’s not to love?”

There is also a sharper operation back-of-house. Writing Corbyn’s speeches used to be a somewhat dysfunctional affair shared between Seumas Milne, communications chief, and Andrew Fisher, the policy lead. Although both men are still involved in shaping drafts, that David Prescott is now responsible for writing them up makes the process “less chaotic” according to one insider.

The press team is also running to full capacity for the first time – as one longtime aide commented “we’ve finally got enough bodies”. Reporting to Milne is Sian Jones, responsible for long-term planning and “the grid” of announcements and interventions, James Schneider, formerly of Momentum, is doing longer-term briefing around strategy, while Matt Zarb-Cousin handles day-to-day briefing and rebuttal.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

There’s also a feeling that the votes to leave the European Union and for Donald Trump show that people are hungry for radical change – one that Corbyn, rather than Theresa May, is well-placed to fill.

But they also know that they have a problem, and the problem is immigration. Even before Trump’s victory, senior aides were talking about “an awareness that the position on immigration needs to change”.

That’s the thinking between a series of coordinated announcements from Labour this week, all with one overarching aim – to reorient the party’s platform on immigration. First, John McDonnell confirmed that the party will not seek to block Brexit. On the single market, what Labour wants is “tariff-free access”, which would, among other benefits, free them up to go into the next election with a more ambitious programme of state aid.

But it would also free them up, if the next election takes place, as Theresa May hopes, after Article 50 is triggered, to go into the election with a sharper offer on border control. One shadow minister describes it like this “radical on the economy, where the public are on immigration”.

Just as Ed Miliband turned to Chuka Umunna and Sadiq Khan to do the heavylifting as far as announcements on immigration were concerned, Clive Lewis, who as well as being from an ethnic minority is popular among activists, has been deployed for many of the more controversial announcements – telling the Guardian that free movement of people has not worked for “millions” of Brits, and announcing today that only people who are members of a trade union should be able to come to work here.

He reiterated that on Sky today, say that “if” immigration has had a net benefit, the benefits have not been share fairly, and the way to tackle that is to compel companies that bring people in from abroad to only bring in those who are trade union members, adding “I think that that will in turn mean that companies will want to begin to take people more often from this country”.

But the stance risks upsetting everybody.  The Conservatives are attacking the plan as meaning that every trade unionist will be able to come to Britain, while Labour’s pro-migrationists are dismayed. (One quipped “So, we’re bringing back the closed shop?”) Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary and Corbyn’s closest ally, remains opposed and will continue to lobby for a more pro-migration policy, publicly and privately.

For longtime veterans of the Labour machine, it feels very familiar to the arguments over migration that disfigured the latter years of Ed Miliband’s reign. “We ended up with a muddle that pleased no-one, and didn’t hold up under fire,” one reflected to me recently. It may be that Corbyn’s anti-migration turn ends up in a similar position.

Content from our partners
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce
How to reform the apprenticeship levy