by Atul Hatwal
Is Ed Miliband a Ukip sleeper agent?
At PMQs today, the Labour leader parroted Ukip’s lines on immigration at David Cameron: broken pledges to cut numbers, a system out of control, the need to be tougher; it was a miracle Miliband didn’t rehash talk of being swamped.
All the while, the Labour leader seemed blissfully unaware of the staggering, juddering, dissonant incoherence at the heart of the case he was bellowing, across the despatch box, at the prime minister.
Here are some basic facts: out of total net annual migration of 243,000 into the UK, 131,000 came from the European Union. That’s a significant chunk and represents a rise of almost 40% in the past year.
Europeans can come to the UK because freedom of movement across the EU’s member states is a central pillar of the union.
If Ed Miliband is going to make cutting immigration a centre-piece of Labour’s electoral offer, he will need to cut EU migration and that means either a change to freedom of movement or accept that Brexit is inevitable.
We can discount the former, because here’s what the new President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, had to say on the matter last week,
“We have a treaty. Freedom of movement since the Fifties is the basic principle of the European way of co-operating. These rules will not be changed.”
So presumably, Ed Miliband is about to announce that Labour is prepared to leave the EU?
Er, not so much. Here’s what the Labour leader had to say on British membership of the EU in March this year.
“Our country can tackle the major problems of the world far more effectively inside the European Union than it can on the outside…From climate change to crime and terrorism to promoting democracy around the world, Britain is stronger as part of the EU.
Our membership of the EU gives Britain access to a market with hundreds of millions of people. With 21 million companies. Generating 11 trillion pounds in economic activity. Almost half of all overseas investment in the UK comes from within the EU. Directly providing 3.5 million jobs. And much of the rest of the investment into our country comes because we are part of the single market.
Competing in that single market with the best companies in the world drives competitiveness and innovation for firms in all parts of our economy: from cars to computers, phones to pharmaceuticals.
Exit from the EU would put all these gains at risk. Either we would end up outside the single market or even if we could stay within it, it would be under terms and rules dictated by others. That would be bad for Britain.”
By choosing to attack David Cameron from the right on immigration for failing to cut numbers, Ed Miliband amply demonstrated he does not understand the most rudimentary of points: opposing freedom of movement and remaining in the EU are mutually exclusive.
The result is that today, on the eve of the South Yorkshire PCC election where Labour is trying to fend off Ukip, Ed Miliband framed the political debate around Ukip’s ideal question: how can we cut EU migration?
No matter how much Labour talks about fairness in the immigration system or enforcing the minimum wage or whatever is the line du jour, the only sure way to cut EU migration is Ukip’s way, to leave the EU.
The reaction on twitter from journalists of the left and right highlighted the scale of mistake made by Miliband. It was like a collective drawing of breath when something truly disastrous happens.
Miliband channelling Farage and attacking Cameron on immigration #PMQs
— Kevin Maguire (@Kevin_Maguire) October 29, 2014
The winner of today’s #PMQs isn’t even in the House of Commons.
— James Kirkup (@jameskirkup) October 29, 2014
It’s rare to have a main topic in PMQs that is a vote loser for both leaders. Immigration is one such. — Tim Shipman (@ShippersUnbound) October 29, 2014
Europe had been one of Labour’s stronger policy areas. A rare example where Labour was aligned with business, most of the union movement and the majority of the British people, against the Conservatives.
But the more Ed Miliband talks about immigration, the more Labour’s European position unravels.
His public statements on immigration and Europe are hopelessly contradictory. The only possible beneficiary will be Ukip.
If Ed Miliband says that cutting the numbers of immigrants is the priority, why should we be surprised when Labour voters switch to vote for the one party that has the policies to deliver this?
It’s almost as if Ed Miliband were deliberately trying to boost Ukip in the weeks ahead of the Rochester and Strood by-election.
Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut