Labour is trying to beat the Conservatives at their own game. Since he became leader, Keir Starmer has ceded few topics to the Conservatives. He’s keen to reclaim Brexit, economic growth and low taxation as “Labour issues”. That includes immigration. Starmer has said last week’s migration figures – which placed net migration last year at 745,000 – are “shockingly high”. He thinks the number reflects the government’s failure to train British workers and is concerned about the hotel bills the government is incurring for housing asylum seekers.
Although Labour will not specify its own target, it claims to want fewer people coming in. That’s the only logical conclusion to be drawn from a spokesperson saying over the weekend that the party hopes its policies will lead to a fall in net migration. This type of rhetoric is not new: “let’s prioritise British workers and proper wages over Britain’s immigration dependency” was essentially Starmer’s message to the Confederation of Business Industry last year.
This explicit call for training and workforce plans makes Labour, in some ways, more restrictionist on legal migration than the Conservatives. Or at the least, Labour’s promises have slightly more credibility because it hasn’t had the opportunity to break them in the past 13 years.
That might change after the next election. The question for a Labour government is whether it’s willing to dedicate money to delivering on its promise to reduce immigration. Take social care, for instance. Labour wants sectoral bargaining to increase social care workers’ pay and therefore decrease the reliance on cheap foreign labour. Is Labour also going to give councils more money to pay for the rising costs of providing social care? And is it going to increase taxes to fund that? Labour claims it wants to take a different path to the Conservatives on immigration. But the party will face the same dilemmas in office.
This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.
[See also: The Tories’ secret workforce: record immigration]