Immigration is not the enemy, not the answer, says Rob Carr

I’m puzzled. I’m puzzled by our leaders and by some of the commentariat.

I spent the general election campaigning on the ground. I knocked on a lot of doors, did a lot of phone-banking, talked to a lot of voters.

While I did most of that campaigning in Newcastle, it wasn’t the only place. I talked to voters in Bury. I talked to voters in London. I talked to voters in Nottingham, Scotland, Wales and the Southwest.

I had fantastic conversations in our word-of-mouth campaign. Conversations about SureStart, about jobs, about hospitals. I listened to voters’ concerns on the economy, housing, welfare, education, and human rights. I learned a lot about what people thought Labour had done right and what we had done wrong.

And having done all that talking, listening, communicating, I’m puzzled.

I’m puzzled about why our party leaders seem so intent on saying that the reason Labour didn’t win was a failure to deal with immigration. I’m not saying that nobody mentioned it. Of course they did. But to paint it as the major reason Labour failed to win just doesn’t ring true. To say that having a more intolerant immigration policy would have helped increase our share of the vote, well – that puzzles me.

That’s not to say that we can ignore immigration. Just this past weekend, the English Defence League marched through Newcastle city centre. A collection of anti-fascists marched, under the banner of United Against Fascism, at the same time from a different part of the city. Straight toward each other.

Northumbria Police did a very good job of keeping them separate, without feeling the need for shields and batons at any point. There was no trouble and there were no arrests.

Freedom of speech and freedom to demonstrate are both great things, and I cherish them. But it still sends a shudder up my spine that we have Fascists on our streets. That people feel a need for a “counter Jihadist movement”. That good men and women are happy to sit back and do nothing, in the belief that economic insecurity and the changes that globalisation has wrought can be blamed on immigrants.

How do we counter that? How does Labour address immigration without resorting to dog-whistle politics? How do we stop frustration at failures in the economy, in housing, in welfare, from being wrongly directed at immigrants?

We can’t yell bigot at the first mention of immigration. We have effectively to challenge the myths and misinformation that surround immigration. People can’t get social housing because there isn’t enough social housing, not because Polish/Kurdish/Asylum Seekerish (delete as applicable to your town) families go straight to the top of the housing list.

There is unemployment because of the nature of globalised capitalism, market forces, and economic uncertainty. Not because people who have no British qualifications, and can barely speak our language, are ‘stealing our jobs’. Often, these are people who have fled persecution and appalling violations of their human rights just to have a safe place to live.

The media will continue to write stories of immigrants mysteriously receiving thousands of pounds in benefits, free sky tv, palatial houses, and all the rest. And, as long as the media are happy to distort the truth, Labour needs to be happy to tell the truth.

It may be that some of those truths are uncomfortable. Some of the blame for problems falls at the feet of New Labour, after all. We must be comfortable talking about why there aren’t jobs, why services are being cut, why housing is an issue, and what the next Labour government will do to tackle the very real problems people face.

Labour needs to make the case that it doesn’t need a harsher immigration policy at all. We need to close the gap between immigration’s reality and the perception. We need to make sure immigrants aren’t an easy target for people’s economic insecurities. We need an intelligent, measured debate. We need to make that case based on facts, studies and statistics. Not on urban myth, misunderstandings and rumour.

What we definitely don’t need to do is talk about toughening up our immigration policy because it sounds like a vote winner. Labour doesn’t need to become the anti-immigration party.

Rob Carr blogs as thenovocastrian.

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5 Responses to “Immigration is not the enemy, not the answer, says Rob Carr”

  1. Bla bla says:

    I couldn’t agree more – lets hope the leader candidates take heed.

  2. The ‘immigration’ problem has been spoon-fed to the British public through the tabloids for decades. Stories are nearly always negative, and intended to create a state of paranoia around the issue. The positive aspects of immigration are never mentioned – the fact that immigrant workers play a vital role in our National Health Service, the fusing of different cultures to create a more vibrant society, etc. Yet the same papers still say that we are not having any debate on immigration! There is a debate, and it is almost entirely biased AGAINST immigration. We need to take on the arguments coming from the right/far-right on this issue, not pander to them by making noises about toughening up on immigration. These scare stories are partly responsible for the rise of the EDL, and it won’t be long before one of their violent, racist demos leads to fatalities. The tabloid journalists need to start being far more responsible.

  3. AmberStar says:

    @ Leicester UAF

    “The tabloid journalists need to start being far more responsible.”

    Don’t hold your breath 😎

    Labour need to find ways of getting our message across that doesn’t involve conventional TV, newspapers etc. I hope we succeed in doing so.

  4. […] A must read Jump to Comments I’ve written a second piece for the website, Labour Uncut, which you can find here. […]

  5. Kate says:

    I do think more people see it as an issue than you’re letting on. But I think less people are xenophobic or racist than the Mail et al would want us to believe. No one deals properly with the issue; there’s people like yourself who’re liberal about it but never get the chance to explain why; there’s a load of meaningless ‘tough-talk’ rhetoric about immigration based on very little that actually sometimes gets translated into policy unfortunately; and there’s straight-up xenophobia. At least those are the positions that are conveyed to us through the press without much analysis.

    The whole process of thought on immigration policy is ill conceived badly carried-out. A bit like drugs policy and prisons, too much of it is based on what will look good in the papers and too little is based on the findings of experts,

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