The price of credibility for the Left is accepting welfare and immigration are real concerns

by Kevin Meagher

One of the more depressing aspects of the Labour’s 2010 general election campaign was the party’s pledge to bring in an “Australian points-based system” to curb illegal immigration.

This was the party’s “line-to-take” on the doorstep – a subterfuge to be deployed when asked what Labour would do to as a fig-leaf for actually having a working immigration policy in the first place.

It was, of course, disingenuous tosh. Having presided over a decade of mass immigration, with net three million migrants coming to live here during the noughties, the real, unspun view of most people on the left is pretty clear: immigration simply doesn’t matter.

Worse, it’s a solely a hobby-horse of the angry and ignorant. It’s a view that was perfectly encapsulated in Gordon Brown’s unguarded dismissal of Rochdale pensioner Gillian Duffy as “that bigoted woman” when she posed an entirely reasonable question to him about the effects of high levels of migration during that same election campaign. One, if we remember, Labour didn’t win.

Others on the left believe people like Mrs. Duffy, and the million like her, are victims of black propaganda peddled by the Tory press. Strip away the right-wing “scaremongering” about immigration reveals there to be no problem whatsoever. Instantly, the first-person experiences of those at the sharp end of competing with newcomers for jobs and houses are rendered invalid. They’ve simply got it wrong. Unless they really are bigots, of course.

And yet the public doesn’t see it that way. Poll after poll tells us that the British public are concerned about the stresses mass immigration it can have on jobs, public services and community relations.

The YouGov poll that accompanied our recent book ‘Labour’s Manifesto Uncut: How to Win in 2015 and Why’ found that 78 per cent of voters felt the last Labour Government admitted “too many immigrants”. 53 per cent of this total “strongly” agreed this was the case. Just 13 per cent of voters disagreed.

The left’s cognitive dissonance with British public opinion is also borne out on welfare reform. Once again people are concerned about the costs of the benefits system and, as the see it, the general unfairness of some people drawing out far more than they ever put in.

New Shadow Welfare Secretary, Rachel Reeves, used her first interview last weekend not to harden Labour’s policy as some complained, nor to simply restate it as others insisted. She actually watered it down by moving decisively away from enshrining a stronger contributory principle in the system which her predecessor Liam Byrne had been floating, with people who have paid into the system entitled to draw out more than those who have not.

Yet we know this is increasingly the public’s view. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has reported a marked shift from voters accepting ‘societal’ explanations of poverty towards them blaming individuals for their circumstances. Back in 1994, just fifteen per cent of the public thought people lived in need because of laziness or lack of willpower. Nearly a quarter, (23 per cent), think so today.

Again, our YouGov poll found only 18 per cent of respondents thought we should be spending more as a country on welfare provision, while more than double than number – 44 per cent – thought the figure should be reduced.

Of those why think we are spending too much, 54 per cent blame the last Labour government and only five per cent blame the coalition. It can’t be restated too many times. For every voter who blames this government for the size of the benefits bill, ten more blame Labour.

People – rightly – still support the welfare state and are often deeply sympathetic to one group or another of recipients, but they believe too many others are simply not making enough effort. They know that going out to work is not a given in too many households – and they think it should be. And they simply don’t trust Labour to sort it out.

Immigration and welfare are two key strategic areas where the party is now on a different wavelength to vast numbers of the British public. So either liberal-left assumptions about these issues are wrong, or else the voters are. And that’s a strange place for a political party to be, blaming the shortcomings of the electorate or blithely ignoring what they think.

Equally, the tactic of trying to hoodwink the public with triangulated excuses about a points-based immigration system, or rattling an empty scabbard on welfare reform, has failed too.

Until Labour intellectually and emotionally accepts the public’s demand for a new settlement around these issues, the party will struggle to seal the deal with an electorate far smarter and more intuitive about politicians’ empty promises than they give them credit for.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut


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17 Responses to “The price of credibility for the Left is accepting welfare and immigration are real concerns”

  1. Nick says:

    Shock horror – a decent analysis of the problem.

    So what’s missing?

    Take a look at any article in the Guardian and read the comments with regard to education. Notice the pattern? It’s identical. Gove is just Gillian Duffy as far as those in education are concerned. That over 40% don’t get 5 GCSE’s must be down to something else or someone else.

    Now look at Stafford. 1,200 slaughtered, and its someone else to blame. In that case, the solution from the left was to run the whistleblower out of town.

    Similarly with a points based system. That’s just a system to be run by civil servants who are partly responsible for the mess in the first place, along with Labour.

    Far better to have as system where you can come, but you have to pay more tax than the average government spend, per migrant. Then everyone knows that migrants aren’t taking money out of their pockets.

    On welfare you are still missing the biggy, and its the thing that will destroy Labour completely. It will destroy the Tories too. All the current parties have been running Ponzi pensions. The current liabilites are 6,500 bn rising at 734 bn a year. To give you an idea of scale. All taxes only come to 600 bn a year.

    So its a case of can’t pay, not won’t pay. When people discover that labour was the architect of stealing their pensions, you are done for.

  2. e says:

    “A new settlement around these issues” Not one that divides the immigrant from non-immigrant; a divide based on those who’ve paid and those who haven’t. And this payment divide will take “the stresses on our jobs, public services and community relations”, the British public’s concerns, away?

    Mass opinion is full of evident shortcomings; your willingness to promote debate that ignores them is pointless, a political sin that’s usually associated with Conservatives.

  3. Rallan says:

    You are wasting your effort. Lefties can’t change and they can’t see other peoples point of view (or accept their right to have one). Lefties absolutely know they are completely Right regardless of reason or evidence, and anyone who disagrees is Evil and Vile Scum.

  4. Robert says:

    I realise that many voters do not share my left-liberal views on immigration and welfare. People like Meager, however, need to realise that people like me will not vote Labour if it moves to an intolerant position on these issues. Left-liberals are a small proportion of the total population but probably about half of Labour’s vote, so Labour will not win without our support. Another important point is that many people vote Labour despite disagreeing with many of its liberal attitudes.

    To sum up, moving to a less tolerant position is unnecessary and would also be counter-productive.

  5. Les Abbey says:

    Well blame where it’s due Kevin. Mass immigration wasn’t a left-wing policy. It was the policy of Blair and Brown. It was used to fuel growth without a significant growth in the wages of the lower classes. It was neo-liberalism bringing, as John Reid told us, some flexibility into the labour market. the middle and upper classes benefited by having cheaper restaurant workers and even more toy-boys and prostitutes.

    Immigration for this purpose has nothing to do with left-wing policies. The fight against racism and bigotry obviously has. So Kevin go look at some of your heroes if you want to find someone to blame. Go ask Tony if what John Reid said was true.

  6. John reid says:

    Sorry to hear that Robert, well that’s one vote lost

  7. Kevin says:

    Les – yes, agree with your analysis. Benefits/impacts of mass immigration unevenly felt. Still too few on the Left willing to concede that point. Hence the horrific poll numbers above.

    Robert – How does pointing out immigration/ welfare reform are genuine issues equate to adopting an ‘intolerant position?’ Yes to managed immigration that aids the common good, no to an open door policy (alas, what effectively happened on Labour’s watch).

    Yes to establishing a work-centred welfare state – with an arm round the shoulder for those struggling to find work and a kick up the backside for those who won’t. But higher benefit levels too for those simply unable to work.

    This is the centre of gravity outside the balsamic-drizzled, urbanista liberal-left middle class.

  8. bob says:

    Sky survey, shock horror 51% of labour supporters want immigration controls !!

  9. bob says:

    Kevin says:
    October 19, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Quote:

    Les – yes, agree with your analysis. Benefits/impacts of mass immigration unevenly felt. Still too few on the Left willing to concede that point. Hence the horrific poll numbers above.

    Robert – How does pointing out immigration/ welfare reform are genuine issues equate to adopting an ‘intolerant position?’ Yes to managed immigration that aids the common good, no to an open door policy (alas, what effectively happened on Labour’s watch).

    Yes to establishing a work-centred welfare state – with an arm round the shoulder for those struggling to find work and a kick up the backside for those who won’t. But higher benefit levels too for those simply unable to work.

    This is the centre of gravity outside the balsamic-drizzled, urbanista liberal-left middle class.

    End quote

    So right and it’s so obvious, just the polenta munching leadership class in the Labour Party refuse to see it and are disconnected from the grass roots of its support. must have more immigration so I can keep my nanny, plumber. waiters etc.

  10. Kevin T says:

    The root of the problem, and all Labour’s problems with the working class, is how few people in the party, certainly at the top, are working class people. Labour has changed from being a party of the working class trying to improve its own lot to a party of overwhelmingly middle class activist types. They’re people who acquired their politics in sixth form or university, not from any life experience of their own, and have appointed themselves the champions of various “victim” groups.

    Many of these groups’ interests conflict with the interests of the established working class and without exception Labour takes the other side. In the case of immigrants, Labour champions the right of poor foreigners to flood the lower skilled job market and keep wages artificially low. That the unions also support this is astonishing.

    In the case of welfare, Labour champions the rights of your petty criminal neighbours to live off your taxes. Then Labour MPs who live nowhere near a council estate go on TV and claim it is a media myth that anyone chooses such a lifestyle.

    And does Labour need to associate itself with every crackpot “Twitterstorm” that comes along? Literally no one outside of the activist left gives a damn about the Daily Mail misrepresenting Ralph Miliband’s politics or the atrocity of lads mags or Twitter abuse buttons or whether Tescos sold a mental patient Halloween costume or which celebrity said something politically incorrect today. Nobody cares. At all. Yet this is what Labour is perceived to be absolutely obsessed with.

    Despite all this, Labour continues to do well with the working class for the same reason the Tories continue to get votes from the suburban middle classes they are also now almost completely removed from. Economic voting – tax cuts or benefit rises – and tribalism – if you don’t vote for us, the Tories/Labour will get in!

    But voting numbers have now fallen to a point where it is probably no longer possible for any major party to get a full majority. People are soon going to get fed up of coalitions involving Nick Clegg as deputy prime minister. UKIP has taken a big chunk of the market with incredible speed and it won’t be long before someone figures out there is a big gap in the market for old school (pre-60s) left wing politics as well as right wing.

  11. Is not all politics simply expediency tinged with acid?

    Ideology, be it left wing wails of ancient Marxist delusion or feral Friedmanite high table arrogance, always fails.

    Blair, Miliband, Bevan, Gaitskell? Lose the pockets of the middle class and Labour will forever lurk in the shadows of what could have been.

    Julian Ruck

  12. Ex-labour says:

    Kevin T

    Spot on fella. Labour no longer have the ordinary people at heart. They are just a bunch of progressive liberal Leftards who seem to be against everything working people want.

    Working people want lower taxes, idle people removed from the benefits system, mass immigration stopped etc. The only party offering this seems to be the Conservatives as far as I can see.

  13. Paul J says:

    Good article, but it misses one crucial point- the issues of mass immigration and support for welfare are linked. A rise in the first leads to a decline in the second.

    If there’s too much immigration, people stop wanting a generous welfare state. Look at Norway and Sweden, both previously almost social-democrat one party regimes, that now have large and voluble rightwing anti-immigration, anti welfare parties.

    The fact is that large scale immigration has effects which hurt at the bottom, and bring benefits at the top. No amount of spinning by Simon Portes, (a right wing liberal with fluffy edges) will change that fact.

  14. southern voter says:

    Labour need to grasp they got it all wrong with regards to migration.

  15. lorne cartlidge says:

    In 04. i wrote to my then local labour lab m.p box laxton [derby north] predicting an eventual flood of eastern european migrants, he mockingly wrote that on may 1st 04 all the news papers were left looking silly when on the first day of accession ,hardly any one came.But as us plebs new they came and keep coming.For years i,ve told our politicians that a million brits working spend in their local communities while a million migrants save to take the money home..the end result is dying communities.A s a male single parent [part time worker] i have had to battle in the jobs market against young single flexible migrants…out come virtually impossible to get extra hours to take me off benefits.So the state as to keep paying for me and millions like me..it,s depressing and even more to see my daughter having to eventually compete in this race to the botom. Also i,d like to add though i work part time, i would gladly work for the rst of my benefits helping in my local community with the aged or keeping the village clean,As a ex labour voter now aged 51,so in my third recession ,i could cry how the liberal left seem to hate my class and seem to enjoy champion the migrant while stigmatising the british ordinary class as lazy even more than the tories and they don,t realise the hate growing in our hearts..end of rant

  16. I was unemployed for about 18 months before finally getting work in my profession a long distance from home, the availability of jobs is just that poor. Would Labour have guaranteed me a job in my chosen profession or would they have forced me to work at McDonalds? This scheme would have harmed my career and lowered the tax, NI and loan repayments the government receive from me had they forced me into an inappropriate job.

  17. Mike Homfray says:

    If people want right wing policies, then they will vote for right wing parties.

    That isn’t our role

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