We should welcome Ed Miliband’s admission yesterday that Labour governments ‘got it wrong’ on immigration. It is certainly historic.
Labour can never again claim it is ‘racist’ to say there have been — and still are — too many immigrants coming into this country.
But welcome though his speech was, it wasn’t nearly good enough. In the first place his admission of fault was far too muted. And in the second his prescriptions for dealing with the problem were at best half-baked and at worse cynical.
Labour’s mistakes were so enormous between 1997 and 2010 that its current leader should really have put on sackcloth and ashes. There were 3.5 million net migrants into this country in 13 years. It is not too much to say that an irreversible transformation in the demographics of Britain has taken place.
Pressure on schools, hospitals and housing has been colossal. Some communities have been transformed without people ever having been consulted. It is hardly surprising, though nonetheless shocking, that in a recent YouGov poll, immigration topped the list of what people thought were the ‘worse things about Britain’, with 53 per cent of respondents expressing that view.
Earlier this week, the Office for National Statistics released figures which showed how, largely as a result of immigration, the population of the most crowded (which tend also to be the most prosperous) parts of Britain soared between 1997 and 2010.
In London, the population rose by 11.6 per cent in 13 years. In the South-East, it went up by 8.5 per cent, and in Eastern England it increased by 10.5 per cent. No wonder there is a shortage of affordable housing in these areas.
The blame for all of this can be pinned squarely on Labour, which is why I say Mr Miliband’s mea culpa was so inadequate. It is not as though the Labour government did not know what was going on. Week after week, the Mail warned that immigration was running out of control — warnings which were ignored or even met with disgraceful imputations of racism.
It was not Labour alone that was guilty. The BBC and significant parts of the Press refused to admit there was a problem. It was not until 2010 that Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, admitted that the Corporation had often side-stepped the issue.
The following year he went further, writing in the New Statesman magazine that ‘there were some years when the BBC, like the rest of the UK media, was very reticent about talking about immigration’.
Actually, there were a few newspapers which highlighted the problems.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the MigrationWatch think-tank, was sometimes portrayed by the BBC as an extremist with racist leanings, and his views were described by the Guardian as ‘worrying’. In fact, his organisation was, and is, vigorously analytical, and free of any taint of racism.
With a few honourable exceptions, middle-class Left-wing intellectuals were blind to the effects of unprecedentedly rapid immigration on working-class communities, and the job prospects of people living in them.
In short, there was terrible betrayal of ordinary people led by Labour — whose leader is finally waking up to the anxieties of its core voters for reasons which I suggest are largely self-interested. In government, the party regarded the concerns of its natural supporters about immigration as ‘bigoted’ — the word used by Gordon Brown to describe Rochdale pensioner Gillian Duffy during the 2010 election campaign after she expressed her concerns about ‘all these East Europeans’.
Why did Labour so recklessly encourage mass immigration? The obvious answer is that it believed that cheap labour was vital to Britain’s economy in the boom years, and to hell with native British workers.
If I go to a supermarket in the centre of Oxford, where I live, every till is manned by a usually polite and efficient immigrant. Just three miles way is Blackbird Leys, one of the poorest areas in the country, where there are many white working class people living on benefits. This is the madness bequeathed by Labour.
But there was, I believe, another, darker reason for Labour’s love of immigration. Former party adviser Andrew Neather, who worked for Tony Blair, Jack Straw and David Blunkett, has claimed that Labour had ‘a driving political purpose in allowing mass migration’ which was ‘to make the UK multicultural’.
Labour knew that most non-EU immigrants were, once granted citizenship, likely to vote for a Leftish party, and so was in effect shoring up its support. Writing in his published diaries in 2004, former Labour minister Chris Mullin lamented his party’s failure to tackle immigration abuses before noting that ‘at least 20 Labour seats depend on Asian votes’.
This continuing dependence on the ‘immigrant vote’ helps to explain Mr Miliband’s reluctance yesterday to embrace any reduction. Indeed, John Denham, his PPS, earlier told the BBC that the level of immigration ‘is not the issue we’re talking about today’.
Instead, Mr Miliband spoke about asking companies with more than 25 per cent of foreign workers to notify jobcentres. What idiocy! Does he really believe that such a fiddly little rule would change anything?
Tellingly, the Labour leader dwelt on Eastern European immigration, noting the scarcely credible mistake of the Labour Government in predicting that only 13,000 Poles would come to Britain after their country had joined the EU in 2004, whereas in the event more than a million turned up.
However, immigrants from Eastern Europe including Poland only comprised 20 per cent of the three and a half million net migrants in the Labour years, and they now account for about 15 per cent. The majority of immigrants have come, and continue to come, from Asia and the Third World.
Moreover, Eastern European immigrants tend not to seek British citizenship and so do not vote in elections. By contrast, non-EU immigrants do normally seek citizenship and do eventually vote, usually Labour.
In view of Labour’s record, it seems reasonable to suggest that Mr Miliband’s refusal to recommend that the numbers of such immigrants should be cut at least partly reflects his party’s future dependence on their votes.
There is only one way of controlling immigration, which is to reduce the number of foreigners coming to this country. The point seems so self-evident that it should hardly need stating. And yet Mr Miliband weaved and ducked yesterday without accepting the obvious solution, which is that immigration must be curbed.
This is what the Coalition is attempting to do with David Cameron’s promise to reduce numbers from hundreds of thousands a year to ‘the tens of thousands’. So far it is having only limited success, partly because the Lib Dems insist on watering down almost every proposal to bring down immigration levels.
But at least the Government has accepted the principle, which Mr Miliband still has not, that overall numbers should be dramatically brought down. Labour is going through the motions of pretending that it is at last listening to its core supporters without being able to face up to the electoral consequences of cutting immigration.
It was a historic speech in the sense that we can now perhaps discuss immigration without being dubbed racist. I fear, though, that Ed Miliband has a long way to go before he grasps the enormity of Labour’s betrayal, and he is also very far from embracing policies that are likely to work.