I hate Labour’s immigration mug – but I hate their immigration pledge even more

29th March, 2015 12:08 pm

Yesterday the Labour Party put a dent in the good week they’ve been having by putting on sale a mug stamped with Labour’s promise to put “controls on immigration”.  The was rightly criticised across Twitter; some said it was pandering to Ukip while others seemed to be in disbelief that the party would even produce a piece of merchandise.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 10.03.34

However, the mug is one of a family of five, each of which are branded with one of Labour’s election pledges. In response to fury vented across social media, a Labour spokesperson responded with an indisputably sound line of reasoning: “Labour has five election pledges. This is one of the election pledges”.

The problem here then is not the mug, but what the mug reminds us of: just how wrong Labour are on immigration. The proposed policies centre around the idea that immigration needs to be managed, the implication being that it’s out of control. This is a response to the belief that New Labour let far too many immigrants come into the country –  Miliband has branded this a mistake on numerous occasions.

This is misguided for two reasons. Firstly, if we’re going to focus on economics (so often the justification for their anti-immigration approach), the party fail to recognise that immigration hasn’t been bad for the economy. In recent years, a study showed net migration has added 0.6% to the output of the economy. And when it comes down to social cohesion, evidence show that most people who are likely to vote Ukip, live in areas of low immigration. That’s because most anti-immigration feeling comes down to fear of the ‘other’, stoked by the press and political parties.

Secondly, the public don’t believe Labour when they say they’re going to be tough on immigration. All they hear when the party say immigration needs to be “controlled” is that immigration is a problem, one that Labour are responsible for and incapable of coping with. The party’s pledge fans the flames of anti-immigration sentiment and convinces people to vote for someone else.

This is true when you get down to the details of the policy. So far for the Labour Party  “controlling immigration” comes down to stopping incoming migrants from claiming benefits until they’ve been in the country for two years. This is based on the incorrect assumption that a sizeable proportion of migrants come to the UK to live off the state, when in fact, the overwhelming majority come here to work and contribute to the economy. This policy sends a loud, clear anti-immigration signal, one we should all denounce.

The other plank in Labour’s immigration pledge is that they would introduce a new law to prevent employers undercutting wages by exploiting immigration. In theory this is a sound policy. But I can’t fathom why this is part of a pledge on immigration (a pledge that shouldn’t exist at all). Instead of indulging in the Ukip-esque game of dividing low-paid workers on the basis of where they were born, what Labour should have done is create an anti-exploitation pledge, to stop employers underpaying migrants and those workers who were born in the UK. This would have helped to put an end to the ‘othering’ of migrants by uniting exploited workers under a common cause and rightly directing the blame towards corrupt employers.

So while I hate Labour’s immigration mug, I hate their immigration pledge even more. Although we can’t erase the pledge itself, if we all re-direct our anger for ‘that’ mug towards Labour’s approach to immigration, perhaps post-May we can convince the leadership to change course.

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  • treborc1

    I do agree with you sadly labour will do and say anything to try and get voters back it failed in Scotland so they hope it will get UKIP voters back, or in fact the Tory swing voters.

    Immigration is not evil what is evil is not building the infrastructures to accommodate not only the immigrants but the places for British peoples,. labour’s 200,000 houses is shocking low, and is another bribe to the right wing Progress group not social but affordable what that means god knows.

    .

    • Richard Hoffmann

      I have to pick you up on the 200,000 houses thing. Our PPC Darren Price in Congleton CLP is has a PhD in housing design and town planning, and lectures on it at Sheffield Hallam University.

      He told me that 200,000 homes a year is the absolute maximum that the building industry can construct at this present moment in time due to a shortage of labour/manpower, and a shortage of materials; specifically bricks. The brick stocks are at an all time low.

      If you don’t believe me, feel free to ask him yourself. Just search for him on Google.

      • Ian

        So can’t we get some of the Eastern Europeans making bricks? They have buildings there after all.

        • Richard Hoffmann

          The brick manufacturers mothballed their factories around 2009, when the slump started. There was an interesting program on the Radio 2 Jeremy Vine show last year about the problem faced. The factories laid off their staff, and now they need to recruit and train new people. Then a mothballed factory can’t just be immediately switched back to 100% in an instant, it takes time.

          • Ian

            Brickmakers are not the only building trade in short supply – try getting a carpenter!

        • Dave Postles

          Richard Hoffman answered your question, but even if we had the bricks, we don’t have the skilled bricklayers. (There is a jobbing builder from our village who commuted to the N.E. until recently to do brickie’s work. His wife informed us that the constant headache was the shortage of supply of bricks.) We are using migrant workers from the Iberian peninsula who are good at laying blockwork, but not bricks. One of the consequences of not building social/council housing and relying on the ‘free market’ is that we have lost the skilled trades – as, indeed, you remark about joiners. The social housing programme helped to maintain the skilled trades. The ‘free market’ has allowed the withering away of those trades. To maintain the supply to the trades, you need a constant programme of building, not the boom and bust of the private housing market. It will collapse again when Osborne stops using taxpayers’ money to stimulate the private housing market. (Actually, all the houses being built in our village are 4-bed luxury homes with maximum avoidance of social housing in the developments).

          • Daniel Speight

            If a government really wanted to have a rush home building scheme it could. The rebuilding of London after the war, including prefabs, proves that. Then again, back in those days there were giants throughout the party.

          • Dave Postles

            Yes, I accept that.

        • muyuu

          Not if we’re running a campaign on bigotry and xenophobia.

  • Paul Trembath

    Perhaps Labour should pledge that employers violating minimum wage (for migrants or anyone) will be ordered to pay their employees’ union subscriptions because they are clearly not well enough represented?

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    Let’s see, why might a Left wing party want to manage and control levels of immigration?

    Crazy thought, they might care about the country’s population having decent, affordable housing, realising that a big increase in population without a similar growth in house building would increase competition, pushing up rents and house prices with the poorest in society suffering the most. A responsible Left wing party would want controlled immigration so they can ensure population growth doesn’t outstrip housing provision.

    A Left wing party with some solidarity for working people might look at the jobs market and seeing high youth unemployment, poor pay and growing use of zero wage contracts, conclude that the UK labour market was over-supplied with labour. That the best interests of country are in getting its existing population back to work and the country would be better off if labour was in a little shorter supply because it would then force employers to start competing for workers again, paying higher wages to bid them away from existing jobs or get the unemployed back into the workforce.

    In short, a Left wing party would want managed immigration because it had the intellectual maturity to realise that it had both positives and negatives and that only by managing it could it secure a good balance of the two for the country and existing citizens.

    • BlueGrey

      Maya makes some very good points, but so does Quiet Sceptic,
      and this reflects the fact that the evidence is finely balanced when you try to
      assess whether immigration brings more positives than negatives, or vice
      versa. Those on both sides of the argument cherry pick the evidence, and Maya provides a great example of this, by completely ignoring the strains placed on public services, housing etc, arising from large-scale immigration of the sort we’ve seen over the last 10 years.

      Although I’m not at all anti-immigration, I do worry that the public are less willing to support the welfare state as society becomes more and more diverse. The feeling that the welfare state is for “people like me” underpins the willingness to pay tax in order to help those most in need. Many
      ex-Labour voters now supporting UKIP think that people like them pay tax, and people who are not like them get the handouts. This isn’t logical (e.g. East Europeans are rarely unemployed), but these voters are operating on the basis of gut feeling, not political analysis. This is a major reason why, as Maya notes, concern about immigration tends to be higher in areas with less immigration.

    • Nobody on the left is calling for uncontrolled immigration. And in fact we have not had an open door immigration since 1962 and the passage of the Commonwealth Immigration Act. What I personally support is immigration controls that are fair, transparent and efficient. My office deals with thousands of immigration cases a year. And in my experience too many problems arise from the sheer administrative chaos.
      But your central point is that immigrants are responsible for low wages and pressure on the public services.
      Actually without immigrants and the children of immigrants we would not have public services in many parts of the country.
      But immigrants don’t CAUSE low wages. Deregulation, weakened trade unions and predatory employers do that. Notably there were no prosecutions for failing to pay the National Minimum Wage in the whole of 2013/2014.
      So a mug saying “Defend Trade Union Rights and Freedoms” might be altogether more appropriate

      • Steve Stubbs

        “Actually without immigrants and the children of immigrants we would not have public services in many parts of the country.”

        I see this refrain constantly and it annoys the heck out of me. The reason that majority of these jobs are held by immigrants and their offspring is that they will accept low wages for those jobs, which the indigenous population will not.

        If the immigrants and their offspring were not available to take them, those jobs would be much better paid so as to attract indigenous workers, after all they would still need doing and the wages would be set accordingly.

        It is called supply and demand.

        • Ronnie McGowan

          …’If the immigrants and their offspring were not available to take them, those jobs would be much better paid so as to attract indigenous workers’……I’m not sure which research you are referring to here but I’ll offer my own anecdotal experience over years of taking low paid jobs during the summer holidays to supplement my lowly teachers wages…..I found indigenous workers unwilling to take on low paid jobs, they just wouldn’t do it under any circumstances because they didn’t have the staying power. Now the reasons for that may be complex or it may be simply that there is a class of indigenous worker who just doesn’t fancy getting up early in the morning and doing an 8-hour shift week in week out year in year out – they just didn’t have this long term view of self improvement. They bring high expectations with low commitment. And even in low paid jobs it is possible to make progress [in one whisky bond I won a pay rise and more responsibility after a few weeks] through persistence and diligence; much of this is lacking in the indigenous population before we start on Mrs. Duffy’s blinkered assertions. If people want to come to this country to better their life chances for themselves and their children, for goodness sake let them do so without the constant sniping that they are somehow responsible for cornering the job market.They are not, they never have been and are unlikely to be in the future.
          The mug’s a disgrace and should be taken off the shelves.

        • Ronnie McGowan

          …’If the immigrants and their offspring were not available to take them, those jobs would be much better paid so as to attract indigenous workers’……I’m not sure which research you are referring to here but I’ll offer my own anecdotal experience over years of taking low paid jobs during the summer holidays to supplement my lowly teachers wages…..I found indigenous workers unwilling to take on low paid jobs, they just wouldn’t do it under any circumstances because they didn’t have the staying power. Now the reasons for that may be complex or it may be simply that there is a class of indigenous worker who just doesn’t fancy getting up early in the morning and doing an 8-hour shift week in week out year in year out – they just didn’t have this long term view of self improvement. They bring high expectations with low commitment. And even in low paid jobs it is possible to make progress [in one whisky bond I won a pay rise and more responsibility after a few weeks] through persistence and diligence; much of this is lacking in the indigenous population before we start on Mrs. Duffy’s blinkered assertions. If people want to come to this country to better their life chances for themselves and their children, for goodness sake let them do so without the constant sniping that they are somehow responsible for cornering the job market.They are not, they never have been and are unlikely to be in the future.
          The mug’s a disgrace and should be taken off the shelves.

          • BlueGrey

            Ronnie may have a point about limited motivation amongst “indigenous workers”, but those people still have a vote.

            Every country has a mix of highly motivated, poorly
            motivated and middling people. The middling and poorly motivated East Europeans are not the ones coming to the UK, it’s the highly motivated, young, fit and often entrepreneurial ones that move abroad. Consequently those “indigenous workers” who are a bit older, less fit, less skilled and less motivated suddenly have to compete with these bright, hard-working young things arriving in the country and willing to work at relatively low wage levels.

            Employers are happy, and maybe it’s an economic benefit –
            but it creates a political problem for any party that claims to represent the less well off, and those of average or lower ability, whether in terms of skills, physical fitness will motivation.

          • Striebs

            BlueGrey , absolutely right and how anyone can dispute what you say is beyond me .

            In the “debates” the leaders response to such issues have been to claim they are going to “increase the minimum wage to stop exploitation” .

            Can’t see how that is going to help school leavers or the family of a less able Briton who is only capable of doing a limited number of jobs who has been replaced by an overqualified immigrant .

          • Steve Stubbs

            Everyone can point at someone they know who is unwilling to work, regardless of the rates offered. Personally I am totally in support of workfare, nobody who is able to work should get their benifits for nothing in return. I am not against immigration, I came here from Pakisthan, and welcome those with skills we need.

            But it really pisses me off to see a large segment of the younger generation who see no need to get off their arses and work for a living, given they get enough to ‘get by’ through an overgenerous welfare system and whatever bit of the black economy they can get some cash from, whether legal or illegal.

            Yes the mug is a disgrace. But we must control our borders and keep those who will not contribute or who are otherwise not wanted out.

        • My mother was one of the generation of West Indian women who helped build the NHS. The issue then wasn’t about getting cheap labour. It was an absolute shortage of Labour immediately after the war. But my general point is that, far from being a drain on public services like the NHS, immigrants are a net benefit.

          • Steve Stubbs

            Well the research on this is ambivalent, it seems to imply that although national GDP may grow a bit, per capita GDP does not grow (or is even a bit negative) as the increased numbers exceed the GDP growth.

            We do not have a current labour supply shiortage, we may be deficient in some skills which can be addressed by work permits that do not carry the right to reside at all, while we actually get a grip of our education system and stop higher level education in areas we have no need for, and concentrate on those skills we need.

            I am not against immigration per se, as someone who came here from Pakisthan in the first place that would be a bit silly, but I am against uncontrolled immigration, and Ed’s pledge is stop the abuse if immigrants once they are here (a good thing) but does not contain any actual plans to control immigration in the first instance.

        • My mother was one of the generation of West Indian women who helped build the NHS. The issue then wasn’t about getting cheap labour. It was an absolute shortage of Labour immediately after the war. But my general point is that, far from being a drain on public services like the NHS, immigrants are a net benefit.

  • Matthew Blott

    I’m in favour of controlling immigration not because I don’t like darkies (some of these are my own family) but for the reasons given by Quiet_Sceptic. But this is one of those polarising issues that isn’t split down conventional Left / Right lines and thus you will never get a consensus of opinion all can agree on.

  • Rick

    Seems to be a small step in the right direction

  • Sunny Jim

    I wouldn’t get too worked up about this, it’s no more than election posturing to blunt an obvious line of attack.

    Immigration has been good for the country in the round and will certainly be good for us electorally over the coming decades.

    • g978

      So that is OK then. You no doubt support the current boundaries because it gives you an advantage. Probably the same with the Scotland-England union. It seems to be political advantage over principle.

    • Mighty Oaf

      Good grief. Is this the level of debate? We should encourage immigration because they will vote Labour?

  • Patrick Nelson

    Controlled immigration is a good thing with many benefits and no one should suggest that there is anything wrong with the idea of controlling immigration because we live in a world where most of the world is poor and much of it would like to come here. We have limited national resources and the underfunded welfare state is already buckling. Control is necessary, we are not in a situation where we can do without it.

  • Duncan Hall

    At the moment I feel this is more a problem of tactics, message and strategy than of policy. Most of the policy and comment I’ve from heard directly from Miliband is pretty much what we should be saying: “immigration isn’t the problem; what drives down wages is employers paying too little and exploiting workers – and migrant workers are easier to exploit – therefore we are going to increase and better enforce the minimum wage and improve working conditions, get rid of zero hour contracts, etc.” The problem, I agree, is ceding any ground on this. Paxman’s first question the other night show’s the danger of discussing this on the right’s terms. Incidentally, he needs a clearer answer in case anybody asks such a stupid question again – something along the lines of “don’t ask such a stupid question, there isn’t a responsible politician in the country who would magic up some “sorry we’re full” number, not even Farage, so stop wasting everybody’s time and ask a sensible question!”
    Normally, Ed mentions his own migrant history, the benefits of immigration and the need to better protect vulnerable workers. This is the right approach, and should be carried out without the dog whistles!

  • Jimmy Sands

    “Although we can’t erase the pledge itself,”

    We can choose our next leader a little more carefully than we did last time.

  • Daniel Speight

    There is a problem and some in the party don’t want to face up to it. It’s the problem that Mrs. Duffy told Gordon Brown about then got insulted for her troubles. It’s the problem of the skilled and semi-skilled jobs, especially in the building industry, seeing pressure on their wage levels from East European tradesmen via the EU’s free movement of labour. It’s no use burying our heads in the sand and saying the problem doesn’t exist.

    Let’s take a very visible example. Polish electricians are available on close to minimum wage in London. There was a time that an electrician was part of the working class aristocracy, even though its union was one of the most right wing Britain has ever had. I won’t go into the history of the ETU right now, but it is worth studying. Anyway back in the early seventies electricians in the building trade were protected by the JIB (Joint Industrial Board – unions and employers) and were some of the best paid workers in that industry.

    Unless we all recognize that there is and has been a problem for some workers, the chances are that Labour will not get their votes. I have thought about this for a while and I now think the answer doesn’t necessarily have to be leaving the EU in order to dump the free movement of labour. It seems that regulating trades and qualifcations can add an unofficial barrier to competition from lower paid European tradesmen. It seems that the Germans have something similar to this. If we don’t do something there is no reason for industries to take on apprentices if they can get cheap skilled foreign labour instead.

    Get it right and there will be no need to call Mrs. Duffy bigoted.

  • Vincent Carroll

    Maya is 100% right. Nobody believes Ed Miliband wants to clamp down on immigrants, so why bother saying it?
    Benefits-defrauding immigrants are such a marginal issue as to be insignificant, so why keep talking it up?
    Governments no longer have the power to control immigration, so why make a commitment on it?

  • jim1999

    So the millions of Brits who have emigrated to other countries over the decades are lovingly called expats but anyone from one of those countries coming here is a resource sucking leech. Not racist at all.

    • Ruaridh MacFergus

      Hi Jim, that’s not the point people are trying to make, although it make seem like it.

      Jobs that are not effected by immigration like quantity surveyors, chartered accountants, train drivers, electronics engineers. All their wages are up, up, up.

      Whereas delivery drivers, taxi drivers, joiners, plasterers. All their wages are down, down, down.

      But anyone who points out the correlation between sharp increase of population and decrease in wages is branded racist.

      A lot of the qualifications people earn abroad are not compatible here but employers still employ them, so it’s a joint fault of immigration policy, employers and failure to protect working people. But no one can touch immigration policy because of backlash from middle-class students who will never be a delivery driver or a plasterer.

      • jim1999

        name those qualifications that aren’t recoginsided. Qualifications within the EU are mutually recognised by member states.

        As for trades – there is a skill shortage in this country. Getting skilled trades onto a site is becoming a real challenge. Talking to a site manager the other day and she complained that she can’t find enough brick layers and she’s slipping behind schedule.

        I know this as I help run a training scheme that is designed to get unemployed youth from deprived areas undergoing regeneration into trades training and apprenticeships. A program that guarantees employment at the end of it. Yet I still have 5 vacant positions because the local population sees the trades as “beneath them” A direct quote from a 17 year old without qualifications.

        • Ruaridh MacFergus

          That is nonsense what you just said, a 17 year old Chav with no qualifications would never knock back the chance of becoming an electrician or plumber.

          Only certain qualifications are mutually recognized throughout the EU.
          For example, an electrician in Romania, if he came to the UK, he wouldn’t be qualified to the standards by City & Guilds to allow him to carry out electrical work in the UK; he would not have the following; BTEC national certificate in electrical engineering, 4 years experience (apprenticeship) & be trained to the IEE 17th edition wiring regulations.

          An architect in Latvia wouldn’t be an architect here, the Architect’s registration board does not recognize any qualifications from outside the United Kingdom, that includes United States, Australia, Canada, etc.

          A chartered accountant in the UK wouldn’t be able to work as a chartered accountant in France or Germany, only Canada, Ireland, United States, Australia and New Zealand.

          There is a skill shortage in engineers, because a lot of people overlook engineering at a young age. Plenty of plumbers, electricians, joiners, plasterers, painters, etc where I’m from, anymore we’ll see decrease in our wages which have already fallen.

          • jim1999

            Chav??? Way to let your class show

          • jim1999

            As for the qualifications – if you’re an architect from a member state that has qualifications listed under the appropriate schedules you are automatically recognised

            Same applies for electricians

            If you’re qualifications are not listed in the current schedule there are procedures in place to bring them in to harmony with current regulations.

            Now as for the training – it’s not nonsense. We have empty spaces for local youth that can’t be filled. We have had to open the scheme London wide to find applicants to fill the positions. After all that only 20% of the trainees finish the program.

  • Rick Roll

    Immigration and the NHS argument is completely spurious. I can remember
    far enough back (1960s) to when hospital staff were nearly all English,
    delivering care to mainly English patients. There was a very small or
    negligible cadre of immigrant doctors and nurses. Attending the same
    local London hospital today, and you’ll see the majority of staff are of
    foreign of immigrant origin, delivering care to mainly foreign and
    immigrant patients.

    I have experience living in Scandinavian
    countries with similar population to land mass ratios as us, who until
    jumping on the immigration bandwagon, were also able to provide glowing
    levels of care from home-grown staff. Since going down the immigration
    road, they are also experiencing growing delays and waiting times at
    higher levels than previously. Immigration improving health care systems
    is complete fallacy.

    If immigration and burgeoning populations
    was the great cure all it is made out to be, the countries people are
    getting out of as fast as they can should be economic powerhouses
    instead of failing states. A situation, exacerbated by Europe sucking up
    what little skilled, educated talent those countries can produce. It’s
    intellectual theft that will have lasting effects for centuries to come
    and keep them in everlasting poverty.

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