The leader of the Labour Party, and son of two European refugees who fled to this country, decided to give a landmark speech on immigration. It was a disappointing speech, but perhaps that’s not surprising. Despite a call to be “candid” it was a generally thin speech, designed to get headlines that he would be tougher on immigration whilst being able to point to the text and say he’s not being racist.
In fact the speech reads like a more polite, middle class version of “I’m not racist but…” as it’s central point relies on the unsubstantiated idea that immigration drives down wages and takes jobs. More seriously it conflates some people’s concerns and actual facts.
The tone was more nuanced than it could have been, in fact part of it is quite good, talking about the need to reshape the economy and explicitly rejecting Gordon Brown’s “British Jobs for British Workers” slogan – attempting to say that some immigration is a good thing but it’s purpose was clear. Labour let in too many immigrants and won’t do so again.
This is extremely sad and worrying by turns but completely of a piece with the “Blue Labour” project which saw Lord Glasman, Miliban’s intellectual guru, frontpage himself in The Daily Mail, much to his discredt.
Pandering to migration myths
The Guardian has an interesting piece on London’s Latin American commmunity as well as a fascinating interactive map showing the changing nationalities of London’s migrants. Migrants, who contrary to popular wisdom are no more likely to commit crimes or claim benefits than the native population, are certainly here in numbers and we should welcome that.
The New Statesman points to evidence that contrary to Miliband’s contention that Poles took British jobs “Had Labour imposed transitional controls on EU migration, the jobs that went to Polish workers wouldn’t have gone to British workers, they wouldn’t have existed at all. To suggest that we need to carefully weigh up “the benefits and burdens” of immigration is to ignore the evidence that it has overwhelmingly benefited the economy.”
As a fellow Labor MP, John McDonnell, points out ”Our problem at the moment is that we’ve undermined our trade union rights over the last 30 years so that we have the worst trade union rights in Europe. In terms of our housing crisis; it hasn’t been caused by migrants, it’s been caused by the sell-off of council houses and the fact we haven’t built a council house in the last twenty years. We’ve got 700,000 properties empty.”
Allowing blame to fall on migrants over housing shortages, or problems with our schools is ultimately a way of deflecting attention away from the failures of government investment and it comes at a social cost – dividing communities.
The Independent highlights Jonathan Portes, the former chief economist at the Cabinet Office, saying “The new migrants get jobs, contribute to the economy, pay taxes, don’t use many public services, and don’t take jobs from natives. What exactly is the problem?… the economic evidence is very clear that the cancellation of the Educational Maintenance Allowance will do far more damage to the future prospects of disadvantaged young people than migration ever did.”
Miliband’s “new” policy direction looks just as protectionist and discriminatory as the current one, and relies on treating people’s prejudices as facts. This misses the opportunity to help people understand the actual reasons there might be a housing shortage in the area rather than myths about immigrants getting huge housing benefits.
London is richer because of immigration
These days you’re not allowed to call bigots bigots in case they might realise that they are bigoted and get their feelings hurt. That’s a shame if it means a Prime Minister can’t take a private moment to blow off steam about some of the idiots they are forced to meet as part of the day job. I’m sure Gillian Duffy is a kind and lovely person in general, but the bizarre sainthood conveyed upon her for uttering the immortal words “These Eastern Europeans, where are they all coming from?” is bizarre.
More importantly it’s important that people understand that public services like the NHS would collapse without immigration. Far from being a drain on public services immigrants in fact make them happen. Neither victims nor criminals the majority of immigrants are just cracking on with their lives and making a contribution to society.
Our city is culturally richer than it ever has been and the opportunities to learn about other places and lives have never been greater. We should be celebrating immigration and welcoming migrant workers ensuring they enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as the rest of us.
Yes, that means ensuring they don’t get exploited or victimised – even by vote hungry politicians. It also means breaking out of the idea that immigrants are a problem, or that economic migration is somehow a bad thing. Brits do it all the time and expect the right to work abroad, let’s extend that right we demand to those who come to these shores. We’ll all be better off.