Listen to Chris Bryant’s disastrous interview on Today earlier today:
Chris Bryant, the shadow borders and immigration minister, is under fire this morning after his much trailed speech on employers that exploit migrant workers to undercut British workers unravelled. He mentioned two case studies in pre-released material: a Tesco distribution centre in Kent and a Next warehouse in West Yorkshire, both of which use migrant workers from the ‘Eastern Bloc’.
Alas, Bryant got his facts wrong. First, Tesco has no distribution centres in Kent. There is a centre in Dagenham, in Essex, where the company uses a mixture of local and migrant workers and pays above the minimum wage. Meanwhile, Next says that it uses migrant workers to meet short demand when local sources are unavailable. In a quietly devastating press release, the company rejects the suggestion that it uses eastern Europeans to avoid agency regulations by pointing out that such regulations apply to all workers irrespective of their nationality, ‘a fact Mr Bryant should be aware of’.
Indeed, the failure to get basic facts straight seriously undermines Bryant – who, to make the very worst of a bad situation, has just made a catastrophic appearance on Today. And it embarrasses Ed Miliband, while also making his commitment to control immigration look insincere.
All of which is a pity, because Bryant’s central point is something that most people would agree with: 1 million young people are out of work and very many millions on low incomes are struggling to make ends meet, we should be trying to help them in as many ways as possible. You may not agree with Bryant’s prescription of more employment regulation, but at least he is clear about the problem. Furthermore, Bryant draws attention to the fall in hourly wages; down by 5.5% (inflation adjusted) since mid-2010 according to new research. Low pay is one problem, inflation another. Mark Carney’s recent inflation report showed that the Bank of England reckons that inflation is a price worth paying through this recovery, as unemployment and underemployment remain stubbornly high – an analysis with which George Osborne must agree, particularly if you look at his borrowing policies and fondness for QE. Labour’s assault on the cost of living has the potential to damage the government, even as the economy improves. Yet that potential will remain unrealised unless shadow ministers shape up.