Posts Tagged ‘John Stephenson’

It’s time for a rational discussion on immigration

26/12/2013, 11:20:24 AM

by John Stephenson

The divisions within the coalition appear to have widened of recent, as Vince Cable broke rank yet again to denounce the Tory approach to immigration. In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr last week, the business secretary dismissed the proposed 75,000 cap on EU migrants as “illegal”, making reference to Enoch Powell in his assessment of Cameron’s populist style of politics.

Such a move speaks volumes for the quandary and confusion the Conservatives are facing in the run up to 2015 and Labour can now seek to cash in on any discord among the Tory frontbench.

Labour is right to steer clear of the battleground that has seen UKIP dominate the thinking of Tory strategists. Recent victories for the far-right party have arguably led to the prime minister’s tough stance on immigration and it bears a striking similarity to the concern surrounding James Goldsmith’s Referendum party, which went on to have little, in any, impact on the 1997 general election.

Though the Tories are keen to stress the errors of their predecessors for the “mess” they’ve found themselves in, this is not to say that Labour have not acknowledged the error or their ways.

In a speech to the IPPR at the Local Government Association, Chris Bryant admitted that the measures taken by the party when in government had at times been mistaken. A lack of transitional controls on workers from the eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 saw a disproportionately high volume of workers stream into the UK, while countries like Germany and France (which retained controls until the last possible moment in 2007) were spared such an influx.

Yes, the arrival of around 500,000 migrants between 2002 and 2010 created problems, but if the Conservatives are so willing to play the blame-game then it seems only fair that Labour return the favour. At the start of the Blair years, the government faced a mountain of around 71,000 asylum applications each years; dealt with by just 50 employees. The very position of Immigration Minister was created by the party to deal with the challenge.


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Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee offers hope for the long term unemployed

28/08/2013, 11:44:33 AM

by John Stephenson

Prior to 2010, Tory commentators often protested in harmony with tabloid headlines denouncing New Labour’s welfare policies as weak. In retrospect it is often acknowledged that the party’s work capability assessment was poorly designed and allowed people to take advantage of state hand-outs. Individuals in genuine need of incapacity benefits were often shunned on to job seekers allowance, leading to a toilsome cycle of temporary work while the support they needed was overlooked.

However, on the back of the coalition’s failures over unemployment and in the midst of pressure to reveal further policy proposals, Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee offers a real alternative to the Tory-led government’s strategy to get people back to work.

Under the scheme, Labour would guarantee every adult who has been unemployed for a period of 24 months or more a work placement, with an aim to eventually reduce this time period over the long-run. Such an approach is regarded by many economists as being superior to a standard liberal economy, so long as political considerations – such as the wider ramifications for the disabled and the ratios between public and private sector employment – are carefully controlled.

While the policy would undoubtedly be costly – coming at a fee of around £1 billion for the taxpayer – there is plenty of room for manoeuvre within the current chancellor’s budget. For instance, the party are keen to stress that such funds could be acquired by reversing the coalition’s decision to stop tax relief on top earners’ pension contributions being limited to 20%, a move which is said would save the government around £2 billion.

Senior figures within Labour, such as Ed Balls and Liam Byrne appreciate that work should pay more than benefits as a matter of principal. However, the proposals indicate that benefits would be capped according to geographical location, taking into account the higher living costs associated with areas such as London and Manchester.


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