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.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
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