Ed Miliband visited Airbus this morning, where he gave a clear headline message on immigration: never again will Labour abandon people who are concerned about immigration. Alas, he became less clear the more he spoke.
At various points in an interview with The World at One earlier this afternoon, Miliband described immigration as a “class issue”; a concern of those people who are not getting a fair chance or those who are being undercut by cheap foreign labour exploited by predatory bosses. This fits neatly into his pre-packaged narrative about the evils of the modern market economy.
Miliband’s rhetoric on immigration from Europe is temperate; but, at base, his message is now not far from Nigel Farage’s. To put it crudely: an unskilled yokel is on his way to pinch your job, clog up your hospitals and schools and reduce your standard of living. The message is risible (as Miliband himself concedes when he says, as he always does, that immigration has been “good” for the country as a whole). But at least Farage is coherently risible: immigration cannot be controlled (in an exact sense of the term), unless one takes complete control of one’s borders.
Miliband won’t go so far on the EU. In fact, he won’t even go as far as the government on EU reform. Labour is committed to adjusting transitional controls – a policy objective first discussed at the 2011 Labour conference. But it is not the transitional controls of the future which are the problem; it is the transitional controls of the past. Freedom of movement is a sacred article of the European Union; yet it is not inviolable. There is scope for accommodation in the right circumstances; but it suits Miliband to say otherwise, and argue that David Cameron’s renegotiation plan (such as it is) is doomed to fail and that we must muddle on until such time as Brussels makes another grab for British sovereignty. Then we shall have a referendum!
His offer of a referendum in the event of another Brussels power grab is meaningless because the law already demands a referendum in such circumstances (though no thanks to Labour, which once described the ‘triple lock’ guarantee as an ‘unnecessary…political gesture’ – ho, ho).
Miliband also mentioned three instruments to control immigration:
1). Proper border controls to stop illegal immigration.
2). A cap on non-EU migration.
3). Reduce the “pull” on low skilled migration to Britain by inspiring a domestic skills revolution, enforcing the minimum wage and tweaking JSA rules for migrants.
Each of these instruments to control immigration is already government policy. Granted, he might administer them more effectively, although he doesn’t inspire confidence with his observation that immigration is a ‘class issue’ – immigration is rather more than that.
If you, dear reader, can discern a strategy – or even an objective – through the morass of Miliband’s tactical conceits and short-term plays on immigration and Europe, then you’re sharper-eyed than me.