Labour need to stop the attack on immigration

So continues the ‘race to the bottom’.

With the announcement that the Government has failed to meet their migration targets, it is becoming increasingly apparent that immigration will be central to the upcoming election campaigns.

“We have gone mad”, Nigel Farage told BBC News. “We opened up the doors to 10 former communist countries, and as a result of our EU membership we have absolutely zero control over the numbers who come.”

Echoing Farage, anti-immigration rhetoric was also pervasive in Labour’s response.

Written on the Labour Party website: “The Tories have let people down on immigration. David Cameron promised to get immigration down to tens of thousands, “no ifs, no buts”, but net migration is rising, not falling… the Tories’ target is in tatters”.

“Labour got things wrong on immigration in the past. But Ed Miliband has set out a new approach: controlling immigration and controlling its impacts on local communities.”

This is indicative of an identity crisis within the Labour Party; traditionally a party that has celebrated the contribution that migrants have offered, the threat posed by UKIP has been met with total capitulation.

The leaflet that David Lammy MP spoke out against says it all:

You can’t trust UKIP… Only Labour is proposing a fair system to make sure immigration into our country can be managed and controlled.”

Basically: Vote Labour, because UKIP aren’t hardline enough.

It’s clear why campaigning this way is tempting. A recent survey by Lord Ashcroft Polls revealed that six in ten people think immigration produces more disadvantages than advantages for the country as a whole. The biggest concerns were “the idea of migrants claiming benefits or using public services without having contributed in return”.

There is, however, a disconnect between perception and reality. This post seeks to emphasize the positive contribution that immigration has made to the UK, and to urge members of the Labour Party to campaign in line with its progressive traditions.

A recent study by the UCL Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration concluded that immigrants arriving from Eastern and Central Europe since 2000 made a positive net fiscal contribution of almost £5bn. Net fiscal contributions of immigrants from the rest of the EU totaled £15bn over the same period, while their non-European counterparts made a net contribution of about £5bn. The study also shows that immigrants who arrived since 2000 were 43% less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits.

In essence, immigrants contribute more to the UK than they take out. Given that the majority of those arriving are economically active people willing to work hard and pay their way, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Indeed, according to the Centre for Economic and Business Research, the UK economy is projected to overtake the German economy by 2030, citing the UK’s population growth as key to facilitating growth.

There is also little evidence to suggest that immigrants are having a detrimental purchase neurontin effect on employment. Research from the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance indicates otherwise, noting that there is “no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs”. Examining the extent to which immigration is associated with unemployment among the UK born population across different geographical areas, the study concluded: “counties that experienced the largest rises in immigrants experienced neither larger nor smaller rises in native-born unemployment”.

Labour need to connect with a disaffected electorate, but obsessing over immigration isn’t the answer.

For one thing, it contributes to a culture of hostility and scapegoating that has led to an increase in hate crime against people who bear no responsibility for the consequences of austerity economics. Between 2004 and 2014, there was a tenfold increase in recorded attacks on Polish immigrants. In a poll of 1,000 Polish people by students at the London College of Communications, 71% said that they had been victims of abuse, and knew someone who had been physically attacked because they were Polish.

For another, it’s an electoral dead-end. Aside from the obvious futility in trying to out-right UKIP on immigration, trumpeting anti-immigration rhetoric serves only to draw attention away from ground that Labour can win on.

A recent poll by Survation asked 1009 people what they would most like the next government to achieve on a national level. 38.9% responded with ‘reduce the overall level of immigration to the UK’.

Conversely, when asked what issues were most important to them and their families in their local areas, ‘The impact of immigration on your local community’ received only 15.9% of responses. The quality of NHS hospitals and GP facilities received 39.6%, and 55.2% of answers pertained to education, anti-social behaviour, and local employment opportunities.

The negative perception of immigration nationally doesn’t transpose to concerns at a local level. Labour can challenge the notion that immigration is a detriment, while addressing the underfunding and mismanagement of public facilities in a way that resonates with voters.

As well as having nothing to gain by attacking immigration, Labour also risk alienating sections of their ‘core’ support. Although defeated in 2010, Labour retained 68% of the ethnic minority vote. Sustaining the assault on immigration jeopardizes this support, with ethnic minority voters likely to be turned off by anti-immigration narratives. Labour also faces fresh challenges from progressive separatist parties and the Greens, all of which are set to capitalize on Labour’s lurch to the right.

The Labour Party are at a crossroads on immigration, and cowardice in the face of a UKIP threat isn’t the way forward. Labour needs to campaign honestly about immigration, and celebrate the contribution that immigrants make to the economy. They need to put a strong case forward for an inclusive society, focusing on the real issues that affect local communities. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s key to electoral success.


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Tanya Newton 11 Articles
After studying English Language and Literature at King’s College London, Tanya moved to Japan where she teaches English. She loves to read and write, and loves tea almost as much. She is strongly interested in cultures and social structures.

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