Immigration is not just a Daily Mail issue

August 23, 2010 1:07 pm

ImmigrationBy Richard Darlington

It’s very disconcerting when you inspire a Daily Mail leader by publishing research. As with most Daily Mail leaders, the facts are squeezed to fit the frame and support the editorial line. So for the record, let’s be clear, there is nothing in the polling evidence published by Demos today to suggest that a cap on immigration is supported by the public.

What is does show is that immigration was a real concern for a small but significant number of voters who deserted Labour at the last election. More than a third (36%) of voters that Labour lost at the last election agreed that ‘Britain should limit the number of people coming from other countries to live and work here because, on balance, they damage our economy and society’, compared with just over one in four (28%) voters who stayed loyal to Labour.

While Labour lost voters because of immigration it’s important to stress that the poll also shows that voters remain moderate in their desire for border controls and are more concerned about immigrants making a fair contribution.

The poll suggests Labour failed to explain its ‘points based’ immigration policy. The majority (49%) of voters agree that immigrants should contribute before accessing the benefits of citizenship. But only one in three (34%) agreed that economic migrants ‘damage our economy and society’, while just one in ten (11%) voters said people should be allowed to come because they benefit the economy and British society. On this basis, Labour had the right policy but voters did not credit Labour for it.

Voters concerned about globalisation and Britain’s national pride were strongly correlated with attitudes to immigration. But moderate views on British national pride were the strongest of all, suggesting that Labour should think twice about toughening their stance and appearing closed to immigration or globalisation. The overwhelming majority of voters (66%) support globalisation if it doesn’t come at the expense of pride in Britain and think immigrants should be able to live and work in Britain but only be granted benefits if they have contributed.

Perhaps most importantly, the poll supports the suggestion that immigration is a “class issue” with social class showing the strongest correlation to concern over immigration. Voters in the lowest social class (E) were almost twice as likely as the highest (46% to 25%) to want restriction on economic migrants. The government is likely to find that the Tory policy of capping non-EU migration is not going to address the wider issues that are causing lower social class voters concern.

New Labour’s embrace of globalisation gave the impression that any opposition to it was heresy. Labour became disconnected from the insecurity felt by those on low wages and with fragile, casual and vulnerable employment status. Labour’s narrative on the advantages of a flexible labour market was insufficiently tempered by a story of how the most vulnerable could be protected. The perceived competition for benefits, social housing, jobs and downward pressure on low wages during the recession crystallised into immigration concerns.

Labour’s next leader must not duck this issue. While Labour need to address voters’ perceptions on immigration, that does not mean Labour needs stronger border control policies. Instead, Labour needs to make sure they position policies on housing, welfare, wages and employment rights in the context of the debates voters themselves are having about immigration. If immigration becomes a ‘no go area’ for Labour, they will remain disconnected from the electorate at large.

Richard Darlington is Head of the Open Left project at Demos.

Comments are closed

Latest

  • Comment UKIP’s attitude to accountability should worry us all

    UKIP’s attitude to accountability should worry us all

    UKIP’s reaction to the allegations over the use of the party’s EU funding has been telling. It tells us that they are not yet ready to take the step up from a being an assortment of oddballs and cranks to a serious political party. After The Times ran their front page on Tuesday, UKIP’s immediate reaction was to denounce the paper as a mouthpiece for the establishment, rather than bother to refute what they felt was incorrect about the article. […]

    Read more →
  • Featured In praise of Simon Danczuk

    In praise of Simon Danczuk

    Simon Danczuk has led the front pages this week with his explosive account of how an MP could hide a lifetime of abusing children. The Westminster reaction to his Cyril Smith allegations? Embarrassed coughs. Good on Simon for having the courage to speak his mind. Since his 2010 election, itself a feat of endurance, he’s demonstrated a forensic mind and a canny eye for a story. He represents a diminishing Westminster breed, a ‘character’ who speaks with an authentic voice […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Swinging The Axe – Why hiring Axelrod means Miliband is going big

    Swinging The Axe – Why hiring Axelrod means Miliband is going big

    David Axelrod has been hired by Labour to work on the party’s general election campaign. First – let me get the excitement out. David Axelrod is the biggest star in the world when it comes to political campaigning. Nevermind “guru”, this guy is a campaigning deity in his own right. From Barack Obama’s Chicago kitchen table to the Oval Office was a journey that few thought possible, but Axelrod managed the shift from state senator, to Senator, to President in […]

    Read more →
  • News Video David Axelrod’s video message to Labour members and supporters

    David Axelrod’s video message to Labour members and supporters

    Labour’s new strategist David Axelrod – who helped get Obama elected in 2008 and 2012 – has recorded a message for Labour members and supporters. He argues that “It’s isn’t people like me who win these elections – it’s people like you” – here’s the video in full:

    Read more →
  • Comment 10 social history visits for British politicos

    10 social history visits for British politicos

    New Lanark (Lanarkshire) The Robert Owen Museum (Montgomeryshire) The People’s Palace (Glasgow) St Giles’ Cathedral (Edinburgh) The People’s History Museum (Manchester) The International Slavery Museum (Liverpool) Cable Street (London) The Holocaust Memorial Garden (London) The British Library (London) The Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum (Dorset) Obviously most LabourList readers think of this Saturday as part of the countdown to polling day but on the off-chance your organiser is letting you get any friends and family time this holiday weekend, here are ten […]

    Read more →