Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The problem with immigration

The biggest problem with Ed Miliband is that I have no problem with him.

I voted Labour in 2010; that alone makes me unnatural. I knew, at some level, that Labour was a tired, disorganised and demoralised rabble; but I voted for the Reds nonetheless. I watched Question Time, I read all the papers and I saw all the debates. I did so knowing that I was not going to change my mind and that I had already decided who to vote for.

I was in an extreme minority: 72 per cent of people voted for another party. Seventy-five per cent of people thought that it was time for a change of government in 2010. To give you an idea of how countercultural it is to be a Labour person: there are more obese people in Britain than there are people who voted for Gordon Brown’s Labour party.

The biggest problem with most Labour people – even Progress readers – is that they think that Progress members are rightwing. In fact, Progress members are embarrassingly, dangerous, unelectably leftwing. There are many people who are significantly, screamingly to the right of Progress: they are called voters.

This is the biggest problem with Labour’s latest party political broadcast: it causes me no problem at all. It is a series of comfortable truths presented as if they are uncomfortable. Labour thinks that everyone in the country should learn English, and that spending cuts should fall elsewhere to preserve ESOL teaching: there is no great constituency of immigrants opposed to learning English. There is, however, a large number of people who think that Labour, in a crisis, will always support immigrants, benefit claimants and public sector workers over ‘people like them’: and I’m not sure what loudly trumpeting our intention to save ESOL classes does about that.

The broadcast sums up the modern Labour party’s greatest sin: the belief that truisms are radical utterances. We believe, we are told, that everyone should speak English, and recruitment agencies should be held accountable when they discriminate against indigenous workers: but who doesn’t? It presents itself as a break with the past, but I don’t recall the last Labour government cheering the breakdown of the English language or the spread of foreign workers. Even a cursory read of Alastair Campbell’s diaries reveals the very opposite, in fact.

Of course, immigration always puts Labour in something of a bind; almost anything short of the River Tiber, flowing with much blood, is going to put Labour to the left of public opinion. Immigration, in fact, is a lot like a queue at a restaurant: annoying, discombobulating, and an active inconvenience, but it is both a sign and a cause of growth and success. That’s a stance that Miliband is right to hold on to, and that the next Labour government will have to maintain if it is to be a success. But it wins no votes, even when briefly dressed up as a bold new direction in Labour policy.

What should Labour talk about instead? During the Labour leadership contest, the party’s elite argued that immigration was the subject that Labour dared not broach. In opposition, immigration has become the subject that Labour talks about to the exclusion of all else. This is Labour’s third big intervention on immigration in recent times. It is surely not too much to hope that the next one might be on crime or education.


Stephen Bush writes a weekly column for Progress, the Tuesday review, and tweets @stephenkb


Photo: David Sim

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Stephen Bush

is a contributing editor to Progress, formerly wrote a weekly column for Progress, the Tuesday review, and tweets @stephenkb


  • ” In opposition, immigration has become the subject that Labour talks about to the exclusion of all else”.

    Oh puleeze….

  • So in summary, the Labour Party is painfully out of touch on an issue that is very important to the public – therefore we should talk about something else.
    Labour sound inauthentic whenever they make an ‘intervention’ on immigration because it is obvious that, deep down, the leader of the party and his supporters don’t agree with the majority of low and middle income people that Labour is meant to represent.
    We really don’t deserve to win in 2015 when we treat our own voters with this sort of contempt.

  • Stephen, most people in Britain are not “rightwing”. On economics, opinion poll after opinion poll shows that most people want to renationalise the railways, the energy companies and public utilities, such as water. For some bizarre reason, Labour in government supported the mad right and big business and ignored public opinion, as well as increasingly clear evidence that privatisation is an expensive disaster. So the public are well to the “left” of Labour, and probably called communists by too many Progress members.
    Immigration is not a simple left/right issue either. The CBI and major comapnies love high levels of immigration. It keeps wages down and allows for a very flexible labour market. Some on the left – an increasingly marginal group, but very influential – support immigration for host of “right on” reasons. “Our ancestors were nasty to dark skinned people in the age of empire and so we must make amends…” An internationalism that is well intentioned but ignores economics, politics and human nature. “We are all from the same planet and immgration controls are somehow totalitarian…” The Oxbridge educated liberal elite – see almost any Guardian columnist for examples of this mindset – also think that diversity is always a good thing. I really do not know why they think this.
    The fact is we have had an unprecedented number of people coming into this country in a short space of time. Eastern Europeans working in restaurants or shops and Africans working in care homes is not a “sign of growth and success.” Its a sign that many of those native Britis on benefits cannot afford to work at low wage levels because they don’t share a house with 10 other people.
    Its not simply “annoying” that we have an extra three million or so people, it is dangerous. It will destroy the Welfare state as we know it, and could destroy the NHS. Because David Goodhart was right. You cannot have mass imigration and a welfare state. You cannot have large numbers of recent arrivals “taking” without having contributed to the pot.
    You cannot make much of Britain even more overcrowded, build on even more greenbelt land, and even build more schools, hospitals, roads and railways from public expenditure without existing citizens – WHO WERE HERE FIRST – wonder why they should pay for reducing the quality of life and living standards.
    I would say that, unless Labour recognise that this is something we must talk about and apologise for an awful lot more, that we run a horrible risk of people voting to leave the EU and giving a lot more supoort to UKIP and worse.
    The biggest problem I have with the Labour Party is too many supporters who have no idea at all why the rest of the population might just be rather annoyed about suddenly finding themselves living in a foreign country.

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