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Why can’t Labour talk sensibly about immigration?

13 November 2013

12:59 PM

13 November 2013

12:59 PM

The public still doesn’t trust Labour and Ed Miliband on immigration. His speech last year — admitting ‘the last Labour government made mistakes’ — was aimed to draw a line under the past and start afresh. How helpful for him to have two key figures of the New Labour era popping up again to remind Britain of where Labour went wrong.

First, David Blunkett told the BBC yesterday that an influx of Roma migrants could potentially lead to riots, akin to Oldham and Bradford in 2001:

‘We have got to change the behaviour and the culture of the incoming Roma community – because there’s going to be an explosion otherwise…if everything exploded, if things went wrong, the community would obviously be devastated. We saw this in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham all those years ago when I first became Home Secretary’

Then another former Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has made the following comments in his local newspaper, the Lancashire Telegraph, on the errors Labour made with transitional controls:

‘One spectacular mistake in which I participated (not alone) was in lifting the transitional restrictions on the Eastern European states like Poland and Hungary which joined the EU in mid-2004. Other existing EU members, notably France and Germany, decided to stick to the general rule which prevented migrants from these new states from working until 2011. But we thought that it would be good for Britain if these folk could come and work here from 2004.’

It’s hard to underestimate how overwhelmingly negative the public’s perception of Labour’s legacy on immigration is. Even though many (like Fraser) believe that there have been significant upsides to the influx, a recent batch of YouGov polls found that 78 per cent think that too many immigrants were admitted, including 74 per cent of Labour voters:

These senior politicians are trying to help, but their pronouncements make little sense. Straw is discussing EU immigration, which Britain has no control over once the transitional rules lapse. Unless the fabled renegotiation leads to tighter borders, the same thing will happen again, and again, and again. Blunkett, meanwhile, says that we need to ‘change the behaviour and culture of the incoming Roma community’. How, exactly, does he plan to do that — by giving them a leaflet when they enter the UK?

If Ed Miliband does become Prime Minister, will the public trust him to take a new direction on immigration? In the YouGov poll, an almost equal number stated that they believe his policies will prove to be as bad as the last government, compared to those who think that he would do better. No matter how much Labour tries to repent, they can’t seem to shift those perceptions. Talking a little less nonsense about immigration might be a step in the right direction

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