THERE ARE FEW MORE TOXIC POLITICAL DEBATES than the current one about immigration. It was made a key issue in the official EU referendum Leave campaign and members of all ethnic minorities are suffering from an upsurge of xenophobia. With the election of Donald Trump in the US, the anti-immigrant narrative is even more powerful - and it is harder than ever to stand up to it.
Yet the reality is that the political bidding war on being ‘tougher’ on immigration is unwinnable for Labour. In areas where voters are not so hostile to immigration - including those where we need to keep or win the votes of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) voters who are concerned by the surge in xenophobia - they are going to be baffled if we take a ‘tougher’ line. And current Labour voters have a net favourable attitude towards immigration. But it has sadly been true in recent years that too many people seem convinced that migrants are responsible for workplace insecurity or their failure to find a job. This is hardly surprising as it is the propaganda pumped out day after day by the Tories, UKIP and some of the mass media.
But while we cannot dismiss people’s fears, we need to point their anger in the right direction and challenge the terms of the debate. In the labour movement we need to be clear that it is no kind of solution for the exploited to encourage them to think that another section of working people is their enemy.
Our job is to speak out in a practical way about the benefits of migration, and how it is a driver of growth and benefits our public services, such as the NHS. There are no votes for Labour in trying to be tougher than UKIP or the Tories on immigration Labour is now the biggest left of centre party in Europe. We can use our 600,000-plus membership to take the initiative in campaigning on these issues. If we fail to come together, the gains the Labour Party, the trade union movement and BAME communities themselves have fought for over decades could be rolled back.
Trying to make migrants the scapegoat for ordinary people’s economic woes is morally and factually wrong. It can only benefit the hard right’s narrative and lead to a dangerous downward spiral in this debate, with increased hate the inevitable result.
is shadow Home Secretary