A series of top New Labour figures warned about the party’s increasing difficulties on the issue of immigration over a decade ago, Alastair Campbell has revealed.
Both Gordon Brown and former Labour strategist Philip Gould both argued that immigration had become a serious issue for the party, according to the Blair spin doctor’s latest diaries. The book reveals that people at the top of the party were well aware of the problems that would become the groundwork for the Brexit vote, years before the referendum took place.
In a January 2004 extract of the diaries, which are being serialised in The New European newspaper, Campbell said that the “there was an opening for populism that we had to watch out for” over Labour’s disconnect with working class views on immigration and asylum.
Campbell wrote: “PG [Philip Gould] was worried we had three groups of people we were losing: anti-war middle-class and younger voters shifting to the Libs because of Iraq and tuition fees; suburban middle-class, some of them moving to the Tories over more general issues; and working-class voters switching to disengagement because of asylum and immigration in particular, and the feeling they are getting a raw deal.
“Asylum was definitely linking up all our negatives now, from anything bad on the economy to crime, pressure on public services, terrorism, Europe. There was an opening for populism that we had to watch out for.”
In a diary entry from a year later in 2005, Campbell also recorded a conversation he had with then-Chancellor Gordon Brown, who said that that Labour had failed to change the country “as much as we could”, which had allowed immigration to become an issue.
Campbell’s diary records Brown as saying: “We have not changed the country as much as we could and should. Look at the media, 80 per cent come at politics from a rightwing agenda, and we haven’t changed that. Look at how easy it is for the Tories to make immigration the issue, and we help them.”
On the extracts, Campbell told the Guardian: “I think the fact that we won two elections in 2001 and 2005 despite the Tories campaigning on immigration may also have made us complacent. Just as in Scotland people started to feel Labour support was taken for granted so in areas of high immigration I think some Labour voters started to feel the same.
“I think deep down we always felt despite the difficulties we would be able to persuade people of the benefits of immigration and the benefits of the EU. We did to a large extent but where we are now, on both issues, suggests that we did not cement the political views we were putting forward.”