A UKIP surge?

“A bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” said David Cameron in 2006, when asked his thoughts on the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

Seven years later, David Cameron’s Conservative Party has suffered local election defeats, amid a surge for a party, which is, in essence anti-European and anti-immigration. UKIP has polled on average of 26 per cent where they stood candidates and they came second in the South Shields Parliamentary by-election; this will undoubtedly, be the biggest story of Thursday’s local elections.

We have seen just this week the extent to which the media have been pushing UKIP, with stories about candidates with anti-Semitic views, believing that homosexuality can be cured through exercise and images of members pictured doing Nazi salutes.  These images speak volumes about the type of party UKIP are. With their anti-immigration, anti-European stance, it is fair to say that the people voting for them in places like Essex, Norfolk and Lincolnshire are choosing a clear set of policies on these issues.  It would be right to say therefore, that UKIP are more than just a protest party and this is more than just an anti-political election.

The changes to the political landscape where by UKIP is able to pick up seats in key marginal constituencies shows that immigration is an issue on the doorstep.  The concern then has to be that UKIP will be able to play a role in setting the political agenda on immigration thus allowing the Conservative Party’s scapegoating of immigrants from Easter Europe and other places to continue.

On Europe, UKIP voters clearly would like to see a new relationship with the European Union.  This means that we need to have a proper and balanced conversation about this as we now build towards the European Elections of May 2014.

I have written before about how the spin and rhetoric around Labour’s policy ideas on immigration and the need not to pander to the right wing press.  We should be making the positive case for immigration, telling the voting public about the benefits it brings, economically, social and culturally.  It is imperative, that now more than ever before, as we see voters turning to UKIP that we develop a coherent set of policies which allow everyone to share in the benefits of immigration whilst making sure that we have a clear and concise message for the doorstep.  One thing is for sure is that if the Labour Party continues its current messages around immigration we won’t win the argument on the doorstep.

Next Wednesday, Next Generation Labour will be holding a meeting at this crucial time to further discuss the Conservative scapegoating of immigrants with the backdrop of these local election results.  Further information about the meeting can be found here.

An immigration debate Labour cannot win

Labour is drifting into an immigration debate which it cannot win because it is framed by the right.

The Tories, desperately seeking a diversion from their failing austerity program, have launched a new set of economic policies to isolate and scapegoat immigrants.

The proposals are part of a new bidding war with UKIP, who are driving the same bandwagon with their ‘end open-door immigration’ message.

All talk of non-aggression pacts between the two is off the table as UKIP increasingly take support in opinion polls and a number of councillors defect from the Tories.

For David Cameron, with no economic growth in sight and protests against austerity increasing, the next stage of his divide-and-rule approach is to focus on immigrants, who he claims are taking advantage of the benefit system.

Not a week goes by without a Daily Express or Daily Mail front page attack on immigrants ‘swamping’ public services, taking advantage of ‘soft-touch Britain’ through ‘health tourism’ and ‘bogus colleges’.

Cameron has now said if migrants don’t have a job after six months ‘their benefits will end unless they have a genuine chance of finding work’. He also plans to impose limits on migrants rights to housing and access to health services.

None of this will do anything to improve the economy. As Jonathan Portes says, statistics show migrants place a less than proportionate burden on the welfare state and public services.

The groundwork for this message is prepared with an unrelenting message that ‘immigration got out of control under Labour’ and that too many were entering the country.

But rather than challenge that, Labour is agreeing. On Thursday, Ed Miliband said, ‘On immigration we made mistakes in office. We can’t just defend what we did in the past.’

On the same day, Lord Glasman, said of Ed Miliband’s leadership, ‘I think he’s talking much more patriotically, there’s a recognition in relation to immigration for example that the figures were too high.’

Yvette Cooper too has outlined how Labour could restrict European migrants access to welfare benefits, demonstrating how the party leadership has fallen in step with the Tories.

But this is a narrative set by the right that only they can win with. We can only lose votes by making concessions to the right’s anti-immigrant campaign.

To rebuild its winning coalition, Labour needs to challenge the right with a positive message that immigration provides a substantial benefit to Britain and to ensure that, we need to have that debate out in the party.

That’s why I’m speaking at Next Generation Labour’s ‘Challenge the Tory scapegoating of immigrants’ meeting with Diane Abbott MP, Claude Moraes MEP and the economist Jonathan Portes from NIESR on 8th May.

I hope you can join me.


Headlines must show Labour promotes multiculturalism

We’ve all witnessed the demographic changes to the UK over the last decade, so it’s no surprise that this week’s release of the census data has reflected just that. Nonetheless, the news was greeted in the expected sensationalist way ‘The decade that changed the face of the UK: 4 million migrants settle here – and in London less than half the population is white British’ screamed the Daily Mail, while another headline read ‘Less than 90 per cent of the country is white for the first time ever’; The Mirror went with ‘Migrate Britain, Increase in foreign-born nationals living in England and Wales census reveals.’ BBC London meanwhile, decided to hold a phone in session on whether the white British population is now in a minority.

Responding to this, Ed Miliband gave his second big speech on the subject this year and once again it was heavily spun. The Telegraph ran with ‘Learn English Ed Miliband tells immigrants as he admits Labour failed to stop segregation’ while the Independent headline was ‘Ed Miliband: More Britons in publicly funded jobs must speak English’.

Having grown up in diverse, multi-ethnic London, it worrying to see the way in which Ed Miliband seems to be moving to the right on this issue. The substance of the speech won’t matter; it’s these headlines that will be remembered. For one thing, whether he’s forgotten or it’s simply been missed, there is more than one official language in the UK and has been for some time. How would Miliband’s everyone must speak English work in Wales, where they are proud of their national language?

More fundamentally though the spin around Miliband’s speech highlights why we need to respond to the census data in a grown up way and celebrate the benefits which diversity has brought us, without the apologies and the caveats. In short, it’s time Labour politicians stopped playing to the Daily Mail agenda. The truth is that we are stronger for our diversity, it brings new ideas and perspective, and these have a right to be heard and shared in our society. All of these are points which Ed Miliband made but allowed to be drowned out by his tough message on language.

Only the far right will benefit if we don’t stand up proudly for diversity, who have in recent years sought to play on community tensions, and divide our communities further. So when Miliband says we must all speak English, it’s giving them a platform to go into places like Tower Hamlets and Bradford and play on the racial and linguistic divides which already exist. Indeed, they will continue to do this until the rhetoric around immigration and multiculturalism is changed.

A report by British Future, published on the same day as the census data showed that people are changing the way in which they thing about race, no longer are people hostile to mixed race relationships and indeed, the census data shows that there are now over 1 million mixed raced people, which may have something to do with people’s attitudes changing. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t be taken as a given, rather it further shows that race is still an issue. Rather than scaremongering, the media should play a role in promoting the benefits of multiculturalism, showing people the positives. Until they do however Labour shouldn’t be scared of making the running and re-defining the debate. A genuinely One Nation Labour Party should openly acknowledge that our society has fundamentally changed for the better over the last ten years because of immigration and multiculturalism and conduct an open and honest conversation with the British public on that basis.

Instead of discussing whether or not immigration has brought benefits to the United Kingdom, Ed Miliband should be looking to ensure that we are all in a position to share these benefits. We need to see real change in all our institutions, from the Government and the Supreme Court to our local police panels and school governing bodies so they a properly reflective of the communities they seek to serve.

Improving the diversity of our community representatives will ensure that public and local services deliver benefits to all. In this context a discussion around the resourcing and funding of English language classes would be a genuinely beneficial one about sharing the benefits brought by diversity rather than one which continues to bemoan some of the changes which immigration has brought.