3 things we might expect from a Labour immigration policy

20th December, 2012 1:31 pm

Following up on Ed Miliband’s recent speeches on immigration and integration, Yvette Cooper has today put a little more meat on the bones of Labour’s immigration policy. In a piece for PoliticsHome (which we understand was written in close collaboration with the leader’s office) Cooper has begun to sketch out what the party’s approach to immigration might look like.

Clearly based on Ed Miliband’s recent speech we should be expecting a great deal of focus on language for incoming immigrants, but what might we expect from a Labour immigration policy based on Yvette Cooper’s intervention? Here are the three things that stand out:

Positive and negative immigration – there’s a clear focus in Cooper’s piece on differentiating between immigration which has a positive impact and immigration which merely serves to place pressure on society and the immigrants themselves. Failure to forsee the level of immigration from Eastern Europe is something that the party has apologised for before, but there’s now a clear focus on the need for high skilled immigrants. Interestingly, the argument is made by Cooper that immigration which doesn’t work for Britain is also immigration that doesn’t work for the immigrants themselves (as they end up in low paid jobs/low quality housing/exploited by unscrupulous employers).

Removing the net immigration target? – Cooper notes that the Tory net immigration target is somewhat farcical as it meeting government targets will rely on British people leaving the UK (or staying away) and the loss of overseas students who boost the economy. Could this be a precursor to Labour abandoning net immigration as  a measure in government? It certainly sounds like it.

Cracking down on illegal immigration – Cooper and her team are clearly aggrieved by the failure of the Tories to deal with illegal immigration, especially as the UK Border Agency faces cuts. She suggests that illegal immigration threatens to deligitimise other forms of legal immigration (and asylum), and suggests arrest powers for UK Border Authority agents is one potential way of reducing illegal immigration and reducing the risk of illegal immigrants absconding from ports and airports.

Cooper’s approach does – on the face of it – seem “tougher” than Miliband’s. Yet what is striking is to hear the change of influence away from just the negative impacts of immigration on the existing population – and towards the idea that immigration must work for immigrants too.

That’s a subtle but important shift in Labour’s messaging.

  • NT86

    Problem is that there is a very thin dividing line between positive and negative immigration. Whether it’s in highly skilled work or in low paid menial work, opportunities for British workers across the socio-economic spectrum are being squeezed. Investment needs to be shifted into British colleges, universities and firms to have a strong homegrown workforce which emphasises a diverse portfolio of skill sets.

    Yvette Cooper’s statements are certainly an encouraging step forward in Labour thinking given that immigration was one of its biggest failures while in government. It is time for Labour to now decouple the stupid notion that reasonable skepticism towards mass immigration is racism/xenophobia. They also need to admit that it was wrong scrapping measures such as the Primary Purpose rule.

  • Daniel Speight

    Sooner or later the question of free movement of labour inside the EU has got to be tackled and that may well involve our attitude to the EU as a whole. Better to tackle the question head-on than be dragged into it by nuts from UKIP.

  • Amber_Star

    “…but there’s now a clear focus on the need for high skilled immigrants.”
    Yvette Cooper (& Vince Cable who also says this) could do us a huge favour & tell us which skills the UK is short of now & is expected to be short of in the next 3 to 5 years. That would allow those of us who have these skills already to secure the full fruits of our labour because we’d know we are in demand; it would also allow those of us who could acquire such skills to focus our efforts on doing so. Sadly, I doubt the list will be forthcoming.
    This is why we say that the deck is stacked against us; nobody tells us what it is we are lacking! We are simply told, after the fact, that we didn’t have the skills which were needed!
    So, please may we see the list of skills on which Yvette has a ‘clear focus’. Then we, the people, may be able to have a ‘clear focus’ on them too.

  • SR819

    We should simply accept the Tories’ arguments on immigration and apologise for our record. There’s no way to win the immigration “debate”, the vast majority of the country are quite opposed to immigration certainly at the levels we’ve seen recently:


    I really don’t think we can do much about changing perceptions. The best we can do is put in place a very strict system, so that only serious shortages in important sectors of the economy (e.g. healthcare, science/technology) will result in work permits being given, and even then these work permits should only be temporary, so the migrant worker returns home when there is a suitable local candidate who can do the job.

    There’s no point fighting the tide on this one.

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    It all seems so sensible, and not really a matter of any tortured debate between politicians of both left or right, that this need be a party political policy at all. Any normal country, whether governed by social democrats or libertarians would implement this policy.


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