Labour needs to harden its line on immigration

by Robert Williams

Labour’s defeat feels even more crushing a couple of weeks after the election. There have been any number of reason postulated to explain why we lost. Too new, too old Labour, too left wing, too right wing.

Certainly on the right, many believe the reason Labour lost is because its agenda was far too left wing. This argument is summed up by Tony Blair who claimed last year that when “a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, you get the traditional result”.

Before the election the consensus view was that UKIP would cost Labour votes, and the Tories seats. That was one of many predictions the political class got wrong. Labour’s vote share in seats across the Midlands, seats it should have won, and also in the ones it lost, generally went up slightly or didn’t move. Neither did the Conservative vote share. The LibDems collapsed completely and UKIP saw their vote soar. They are now second in over 100 seats.  Of course, in individual  seats there are different stories, but this is accurate as a trend. We are nowhere near recovering the trust of Middle England and we have lost a large segment of the White working and lower middle class vote.

Why did Labour lose? Ed Miliband was part of it, certainly. Savage attacks in the media over five long years didn’t help, but it is also true that he is part of an Oxbridge metropolitan establishment that has dominated the Labour Party for years, and is absolutely out of touch with voters. We lost because, outside London, we are seen as more out of touch than the privately educated millionaires in a Conservative cabinet. That is no mean feat.

We lost, too, because Labour is still blamed for the unprecedented increase in immigration over the last decade and a half, and for ignoring the concerns of voters.  Whether mocking tweets of “white van man” and his St George flags in Rochester, comments about bigots in Rochdale (yes, memories are long when it comes to insults), all the way up from Kent and along the M1 corridor from Hendon to Leeds, Labour was perceived as elitist, obsessed with identity politics, gay rights, minority rights, rights without responsibilities.

We have a coterie surrounding the leadership, any leadership since Blair, who are almost all Oxbridge educated, and have never worked outside politics. This includes, of course, the politicians themselves. They are financially comfortable, and love the diversity of north London (although they actually live in white middle class enclaves).

They, I fear, still do not understand the notion of fairness that most British people support. Its very simple. You put something in to get something back, unless you are too old, weak or young to contribute.

The narrative of post war politics is that the Left is supposed to have won the cultural battles and the Right the economic ones. We have this, in part, the wrong way round.

Firstly, 4 million arrivals, who were unplanned for, and the electorate were not asked about, have come to Britain in not much more than a decade. This is an unprecedented number, which is completely unsustainable. Our pathetically weak employment laws, our subsidising of low paid jobs, our nasty and mean, but non-contributory, benefits system, have all been a magnet for people to come here.

Put that together, and you have far, far, too many people arriving, some of whom really do not like western secular societies, some of whom are unemployable, and many of whom are being exploited by a cheap and nasty economy.

The indigenes are, rightly, thoroughly cheesed off. Not with most immigrants, but with immigration. And with patronising and condescending mostly Labour politicians, who did not listen.

If we want a Labour government (which I do) that offers some social justice, and is credible, then we have to admit that mass immigration on recent scales is causing serious problems. There are many things a centre left progressive party can do to reduce mass immigration, none of them racist or xenophobic.

There is nothing right wing about restricting immigration, which has been at a rate of about 250,000 for more than a decade. Indeed, today, ONS figures show that net migration to Britain surged to 318,000 in 2014, just below its previous peak under the Labour government in 2005. It is a number unparalleled in our history and has caused an awful lot of damage to the social contract.

Neither is it unprogressive to recognise that our non contribution based benefits system, and “liberal” labour laws almost guarantee that people will move here from poorer parts of the EU – and will get benefits after not contributing very much – to top up wages that no-one can actually live on.

What is right wing about recognising voters’ concerns about the impact on housing, services and infrastructure of such a large number of unplanned for arrivals?

What is right wing about being concerned about arrivals who not only don’t want to intengrate, but sometimes actively hate our values?

Ed Miliband tried to address some of this, to his great credit, but there were snipers on the idiotic Left and free market right of the party who complained that he was going too far.

The economic recovery is based on little more than house price rises. Short termism, an obsession with capital over industry and increasing marketisation and casualisation in the work place don’t work, as I suspect we’ll see over the next five years.

The best line of the election was “not anti business, but anti business as usual”. The huge, gaping contradiction between fueling a house price boom and cutting housing benefit will become clear, all too soon, and very painfully. We should be brave enough to say that the economy really is in deep trouble and offer a genuine alternative. A living wage would boost the economy, as people would have more money to spend. Flat house prices, or even falling ones, would do far, far more to help homebuyers than any ill thought out Help to Buy scheme, and the proposed sell off of Housing Association homes will make matters worse.

But it is on the cultural side of the political equation where Labour must ask the most difficult questions. Mass immigration (and 250,000 per year can only be described as mass) is divisive, has damaged cohesion and must be restricted. The Guardian world fantasy of multi culturalism is becoming very toxic.

One of the most depressing moments of the campaign was seeing Tom Watson and Jack Dromey, both very decent men, addressing a sex segregated meeting with Muslim groups in Birmingham. What on earth were they thinking? However, it is symbolic of a metropolitan world view divorced from the views of British people, and from reality.

George Galloway’s defeat was the only truly bright point of election night. Block votes and communitarianism must stop. Now. Following the suspension of London Labour Assembly member Christine Shawcroft, the symbolic expulsion of the vile Ken Livingstone is long, long overdue.

But above all, we need to recognise that the people we try to persuade to vote Labour, and so dismally failed to convince on 7 May are not bigots, little Englanders, or even natural Conservative voters. They want an excellent, free, health service. Commuters want a renationalised railway (why on earth we can’t make that promise, I fail to comprehend). They want their children to be able to afford to leave home before they are 50. They want to feel valued, not ignored and ridiculed

We were blamed by many Scots for being red Tories, and that is another fight to discuss another day, but we need to demonstrate, loud and clear, that we actually like, admire and respect the English, too.

We must start to rebuild by stopping the obsession with identity politics, and with race. It alienates almost everyone outside The Guardian’s Kings Cross offices. We must recognise that almost uncontrolled immigration, and uncontrolled multiculturalism has separated us from a huge swathe of England, from people who believe we do not care about them.

That would be a start.

Robert Williams works in public affairs and as a journalist

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32 Responses to “Labour needs to harden its line on immigration”

  1. Welsh Borderer says:

    I agree with RW for the most part. I would add that we have a duty as a former colonial country to give preference to migrants from countries which we colonised. That was part of the original deal – Civis Romanus Sum etc. We have absolutely no obligation whatsoever to European countries we never colonised. As for those like Romania and Bulgaria which collaborated with the Nazis and then the Communists against us, the EU free market fanatics cannot be serious in claiming their descendants have a right to come here and claim benefits. It’s just ludicrous multicultural nonsense. If Merkel disagrees, goodbye EU.

  2. Tafia says:

    One of the best blogs on here for a long time.

  3. paul barker says:

    So how do you explain the fact that UKIP votes were high in areas of low immigration & vice versa ? This is racist drivel & I am astonished that LU published it.

  4. ATTA says:


  5. So Robert, if part of the problem is the North London Oxbridge metropolitan establishment that has dominated the Labour Party, how do we go about reducing their influence. I know this problem has a long history easily seen as far back as the Gaitskell leadership, but in more recent times, in fact since New Labour, it has become even more significant.

    I fail to see a way out of this quagmire as a cure would depend on turkeys voting Christmas, wouldn’t it?

  6. Dave Roberts. says:

    All true Robert and well overdue for a telling but what has to be realised is that if Labour ditches its traditional stands on many things, particularly immigration, then it ceases to have any justification for existing. You were correct in saying that most people aren’t anti immigrant as immigration.

    We are fortunate in this country to have absorbed the various waves of immigration that we have over the last four decades without, so far, any serious upheavals or civil disorder. Despite the whinging of the likes of Yasmin Alibhai Brown and any number of articles on Comment is Free about the racists of this that and the other this has been and remains a tolerant country full of tolerant people.

    It is clear however that enough is enough, that was witnessed by the four million odd votes for UKIP and a general sense across the political spectrum that something has to be done about immigration and the renegotiation of the terms that we are in Europe on. By agreeing broadly to these principles Labour ceases to be Labour both in essence and the minds of the public. The party is, whether it likes it or not, irrevocably linked in the minds of people both pro and anti Labour with third world immigration.

    The Labour members and activists that I have spoken to in a very East London inner city constituency are openly questioning both whether Labour will ever form another government and if it will exist in its present form for much longer.

    The only way that the party can rejuvenate itself is to go back to basics and recognise that it came from the struggles of the working class, now of course the much ridiculed and reviled white working class. Until the party stops the creep of Spads and the metropolitan elite and starts to adopt quotas for working class people as candidates at every level it is lost.

    Livingstone has to go, that is job number one and if the next leader doesn’t do that as a priority the cancer that Livingstone represents will continue to rot the party. I personally think that he is too powerful within the London party and that he is now an embittered old man intent on doing as much damage as he can.

  7. ydoethur says:

    A very interesting and mostly perceptive analysis, which ties in with a lot of what I have heard out here in the north midlands.

    Just one thought though. I note you say:

    ‘Labour’s vote share in seats across the Midlands, seats it should have won, and also in the ones it lost, generally went up slightly or didn’t move. Neither did the Conservative vote share. The LibDems collapsed completely and UKIP saw their vote soar. They are now second in over 100 seats. Of course, in individual seats there are different stories, but this is accurate as a trend.’

    But I further note you don’t provide any figures. I think the really troubling thing for Labour is that in the major conurbations – London, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds/Bradford and Newcastle – Labour’s vote went up. However, take a look at the places around the edges of said conurbations – Telford, Cannock, Cardiff North, Morley and Outwood, Nuneaton, Stroud, Broxtowe etc – Labour’s vote either flatlined or actually went down while the Tory vote increased substantially.

    The problem is that if you forfeit these seats – which Labour are clearly doing with a great deal of energy at the present time – you also forfeit any chance of winning any future election. Take Stroud as a classic example. It’s not a wealthy seat, although it has wealthy areas in it. It’s also got a very liberal outlook on social/environmental issues. David Drew, the Labour candidate, had been MP for 13 years. He was personally hugely popular. He had only to find a few hundred extra votes to win. He was up against a man who is so disorganized he once forgot to turn up to a Remembrance Day parade.

    Yet in Stroud Carmichael’s vote increased by 5% and Labour’s share went down by 1%. Something is very, very wrong somewhere when Labour are forfeiting votes on that scale in that sort of seat. Cannock Chase, Nuneaton, Tamworth, Telford, Lincoln – they all show similar patterns.

    So while I agree entirely with your diagnosis, I think when you check the figures that you are actually considerably understating the scale of the problem – and its potentially disastrous implications for Labour or indeed the parliamentary left wing.

  8. Helen says:

    Yes, thank you for writing about the need for a realistic approach to politics. The problem is when politicians get caught up with their own idealism and lose sight of people’s needs and problems. Britain is the third most densely populated country in the EU after the Netherlands and Belgium. I am not convinced it is right to be in the EU if it means we cannot stop mass immigration.

  9. tyronen says:

    Labour has already done everything you suggest. They promised new migrants could not get benefits for two years. They bent over backward to acknowledge people’s concerns. The party went to great pains to avoid calling people racist for opposing immigration. Stricter controls on abusive employers was promised. There was even a mug promising controls on immigration, and it featured on the infamous headstone.

    Meanwhile, the Tories talked tough but did little on immigration, which went up, not down, under their tenure. They did squat about migrant access to benefits. They weakened the points system (abolishing Tier 1, making Tier 2 non-permanent) while doing nothing about unskilled immigration from Eastern Europe.

    Nobody cares if doctors and nurses from India immigrate to work in the NHS. They are worried about unskilled immigration from Eastern Europe. And there is no way to control this without leaving the EU. In fact, even that may not be enough. Norway and Switzerland are not EU members, but have free-labour agreements with the EU anyway. Both countries have a higher foreign-born percentage of their population than the UK does.

    All the popular solutions will backfire. We could ban non-UK citizens from receiving benefits at all. All they would do would be to take jobs at still lower wages, forcing wages down for UK citizens at precisely those points they are the lowest.

  10. John P Reid says:

    The NHS runs on immigrant workers, going back to the windrush and Commonwealth countries inviting people here to do the jobs, that white people didn’t want to do
    Obviously EU immigration has caused other NHS jobs robe made ready,
    As police officers have to be Common wealth citizens, excluding the fact that Jamaican police aren’t allowed to transfer to British police, the way New Zealand police do,
    If there were EU citizens allowed in the British police, then the real ease that there’s bit win ugh people who want to do the job if police. Would help, but unlike the view that EU citizens working here for a lower wage in the engineering , building ,plumbing jobs ,drive down the wages that British born people do,as they see their work, taken by people under cutting them on expenses,
    But as recent NHS stories proved regarding WU citizens working in the food, cleaning end of the NHS,if they were in the police ,would it cause police productivity to lower

  11. A J Hopkins says:

    “What is right wing about recognising voters’ concerns about the impact on housing, services and infrastructure of such a large number of unplanned for arrivals”?

    Nothing. But it’s stupid to blame those on migration rather than on the failure of successive governments to address those issues. For example, 310,000 houses were built in one year under the Callaghan government. What have we done recently? Around 130,000. We’ve had long enough to “plan”. It’s now time we got on and did something.

    “What is right wing about being concerned about arrivals who not only don’t want to integrate, but sometimes actively hate our values?”

    What is left wing about asking those voters to whom and what they refer when they make this all-purpose complaint? Is it just a bit of transference when all they really want to say is “effin’ Muslims” – almost all of whom have arrived from outside the EU or indeed were born here? In any case why should new arrivals have to “integrate” – whatever that means? What is it that they need to do? What are these values?

    I have read the article twice and it still looks like something out of the Telegraph. It even has a reference to the old Telegraph favourite of no rights without responsibilities and the inevitable attack on multiculturalism.

    What is clear to me is that a Labour Party without Labour “values” will be signing its own death warrant. Maybe that’s what Rob really wants.

  12. Michael says:

    The opening of the borders to people from Poland was one of the best things that Blair did. In a stroke we took the best and the brightest. Studies show that EU immigration is a net benefit. Immigration of high skills also beneficial. Yet this was what Labour politicians concentrated on condemning and seeking to restrict.

    Immigration by marriage resets the integration clock back to zero. Of the four main ethnic groups taking advantage of this there are from the Indian subcontinent. 70% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women don’t work. Overall non EU migration has cost 170 billion. Immigration by cousins has led to an explosion of children born with genetic problems caused by in-breeding . Labour could have said that the immigration rules (such as the minimum income rule ) would not be weakened and neutralise the issue however instead Vaz was saying that the income rule should be lowered. Flint said that Labour rules would not make a difference to the numbers. Cooper said to applause at conference that the targets for family migration would be scrapped. Diane Abbot was saying she was ashamed Labour was making controlling immigration was a Labour policy.

    Based on a vague immigration policy and many dissenting voices why would anyone have trusted Labour on immigration. At the next election Labour has to not give the impression that any restrictions would be lifted, also just complaining about the Conservatives is not enough, Labour needs to add to the debate.

  13. Rallan says:

    Yeah, whatever. Do you think the British people are blind and stupid?

    In the real world the Labour party is going to use its anti-democratic domination of the unelected House of Lords to make 16 year olds vote on the EU referendum. Labour wants to use the immaturity of indoctrinated children in order to keep Britain in the European Union so that vast uncontrolled mass immigration into England can continue, and so that the EU commission can impose social-democratic legislation on Britain without democracy getting in the way.

  14. Madasafish says:

    “White people like to play divide and rule”..

    A direct quote from a Labour MP.. and one who is still a Labour MP.

    If you had replaced the “white” with “black”, she would not be.

    Labour needs to tighten its line on anti white racism…

  15. swatantra says:

    Somehow Labour has lost its way. Or has it, is it that the world has changed beyond all recognition and Labour still is rooted in the Class Struggle Them n Us of the19th Century. Only an idiot could see that there no longer a War along the traditional lines. Those lines are blurred. In fact there should be no Red Lines laid down. To survive we all have to be adaptable turn our hands to many things . Traditional jobs have gone, the wheel tappers have disappeared along with the miners, and Labour is still carping on about the miners? When we should be speaking about call centre workers or Taxi Drivers and that vast army of self employed one man businesses which Labour refuses to see in front of its face. As a Party Labour is finished unless it represents the ordinary people.

  16. Steve Barker says:

    “I can not fathom why anyone sees an issue with immigration? Overall I would see what we have now as a win win, yet so many portray it as a lose lose?

    Firstly, I like rejoice in the fact that I, could move and live anywhere in the EEC should chose without any issues. Why would I risk losing that right by restricting others? Instead, we we should be seeking to extend this privilege, to as many countries as possible. As it happens I’m not going to use it, possibly because I’m terminally ill and so its not on my/our agenda (do not worry about the terminal bit death is just part of life), but my kids have.

    Secondly, living in a small very white manufacturing town I love to go say Leicester, where there is a thriving diversity, and I can enjoy diverse foods, buy foods ingredients not available locally, enjoy Diwali etc. Why would you want to risk that?

    Thirdly, say 10 years ago when my wife worked in local manufacturing, local factories were leaving (such as Curver Plastics) not to find cheaper labour, but to find wokers willing to do factory work.”

    The above was the beginning of a comment I wrote for the site when UKIP did well in the Heywood and Royton by-election, it was never finished due to my heath issues.

    I would like to give a full rebuttal to this article, but will not. Save to say people I know, and myself, did not vote Labour because Labour reinfirced UKIP lies and did not challenge them ~ ~ and PFIs, Iraq war, etc.

    Be Socialists not apologists.

  17. Dave Roberts. says:

    Madasafish. Exactly. Diane Abbot should have been expelled from the party for that quote but wasn’t because of the colour of her skin. She is precisely what is wrong with Labour.

  18. Tafia says:

    Labour has already done everything you suggest. They promised new migrants could not get benefits for two years. Not true. It couldn’t impose it on EU migrants without Brussells permission. Cameron intends 4 years, but it has to be granted by the EU first and is part of the negotiations he is undertaking now.

    The opening of the borders to people from Poland was one of the best things that Blair did. In a stroke we took the best and the brightest. Really. Round here they all ended up in the chicken processing plant, replacing local workers who were made redundant. The Poles that had skills (and a lot of them did) then did flyers on the ‘black’ outside working hours and effectively then put local businesses in danger as they lost their customers. They bought out-of-date food and got clothes from charity shops living anything up to 16 in a two bed terraced house spending virtually nothing in the local economy then once they had enough to start a business back home that’s exactly what they did, to be replced by the next chicken plucker/gutter.

  19. Mr Akira Origami says:

    “Britain is the third most densely populated country in the EU after the Netherlands and Belgium.”

    SE England “is” the most densley populated region in Europe.

    ….and those figures from 2009.

    The figures were there to see 6 years ago.

    …….. and UKIP dubbed racists?

    Labour were on the wrong side of one of the biggest issues in the “real” world of Britain.

    Harriet, hitting the hand brake and doing a U turn!… is all too late for Labour.

    UKIP were concerned about the quality of life for Britons.

    Labour have now lost the vote of the working class.

    Has anyone, any idea why anybody should vote Labour?

  20. paul barker says:

    The common criticism of centrists or “Blairites” is that they want to make Labour into a 2nd Tory Party but Robert Williams & some of the commenters seem to want a 2nd UKIP.

  21. Andy says:

    Agree with much of this article.

    Britain is a small country with an increasingly stretched infrastructure and a countryside that is in environmental terms massively stressed. Have you noticed that things like swallows, cuckoos and martins have largely disappeared from lowland Britain? We simply cannot continue to absorb hundreds of thousands of economic migrants every year, and it is NOT racist to say that. Neither main party is dealing with this well. Cameron talks the talk but fails to walk. Labour however simply refused to talk about it, and some here still don’t want to.

  22. Robert says:

    So from open the Door to close them quick, just like labour blame anyone and everyone except the people who lost the election politicians.

  23. John P Reid says:

    Paul barker ,levels of immigration, does that mean people who came her 40-60 years ago, because their parent had already come here? Commonwealth, or Bangladesh, as seeking asylum, immigration in Wales Bristol from the EU on work permits is different to say Soho London, Chinese immigration for people settling here bringing their skills, and lots of areas, including Essex, Wales etc, where Ukip appeal to votes insist of white indigenous people who saw their communities gone due to cheap housing and the labour market, annoyed at this in their areas voting UKIP as they want their culture kept, ,Swindon Luton, lie ester all seeing cultures destroyed in a matter of years, have high UKIP votes too.

  24. Matthew Cole says:

    Didn’t this used to be a Blairite website?

  25. wg says:

    Aren’t we missing one of the main ingredients to this argument – here’s the clue.

    John McTernan has told us that Labour don’t really need the white, working class to achieve power any more.

    There are a lot of people out here who believe that the old idea of changing the electorate to suit the would-be rulers was actually being acted out by Labour.

    The trauma induced by Thatcher upon the Labour party made Labour realise that they couldn’t rely on a comfortably off blue collar vote.

    They needed a new underclass to keep them in power.

  26. Madasafish says:

    Matthew Cole says:
    May 27, 2015 at 12:36 am
    Didn’t this used to be a Blairite website?

    Blairites have ascended to a higher plane of consciousness, leaving us plebs.

    Sorry about the change,


  27. John P Reid says:

    Matthew cole. I think it was LU and comments, had the chance to be more critical of Ed M, without appearing disloyal, as Labour list was going in about how great the opposition were, talking about things,like positive discrimination,no foreign aid and the environment, that normal members/voters aren’t interested in,

  28. Will says:

    I didn’t vote Labour because they sound much too xenophobic

  29. Tafia says:

    I didn’t vote Labour because they sound much too xenophobic

    immigration control is not xenophobia. Not even remotely. It’s not racism either – except in the minds of fucktard Guardian readers and other similar minority groups that are faux left wing middle class.

  30. Landless Peasant says:

    Immigration didn’t sway my vote, It’s not something that concerns me, only the Daily Mail reading. Ukippers worry themselves about immigrants. I’m more worried about Tyrants like IDS making the law up as he goes along. What’s Labour going to do about him?

  31. Speedy says:

    It’s nice to see that someone on the left finally gets it.

  32. John Johnson says:

    ‘It’s nice to see that someone on the left finally gets it’ – Couldn’t agree more.

    In reply to the point made by Paul Barker (Diane Abbot said a similar thing on the This Week program) I would suggest that it might be something to do with the fact that areas where UKIP didn’t figure (such as London) have a high level of ethic diversity and lean towards a Labour vote (after all Labour have been wooing them)
    Areas that did support UKIP (such as Clacton) have a high level of white working/lower middle class. My own area produced a high UKIP vote (12000 to Labour’s 18000) and is a mixed community. In other words it is all about demographics and not racism as previously suggested.
    I am an ex member of the Labour party and was a shop steward for many years. I voted UKIP at the last election. Come on Labour win me back!

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