Ed Miliband's immigration nightmare

The Labour leader has to argue against his own intellectual position – and do it convincingly

11 January 2014

9:00 AM

11 January 2014

9:00 AM

Victor Spirescu came to Britain last week looking for work washing cars, but seems to have landed himself with a career in broadcasting. The Romanian, who arrived on the first flight into London after restrictions on workers from Bulgaria and Romania ended on 1 January, has now spent the days since touring studios and newspaper offices, obliging those who wish to talk to him about his new life. Those who bump into him as he weaves his way across television studios have the impression that he wishes he’d caught a slightly later flight.

But someone had to meet Keith Vaz, chairman of the home affairs select committee, who was waiting in a café at arrivals. Romanians should spare a thought for these Labour MPs. They are in a difficult position. The party is mindful that it is still resented for its decision to grant the Eastern Europeans full access to Britain, and that this was a weakness in the last election. Former ministers still feel bruised, especially by those who agitated while in government to acknowledge the concerns of voters about immigration.

This partly explains why we do not hear Labour frontbenchers speaking quite so loudly about the benefits of immigration; instead they give speeches in which they try to reassure voters that it is ‘understandable’ to worry about some of its negative impacts. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, is reduced to complaining that the government’s Immigration Bill isn’t tough enough. The legislation is returning to the Commons in the next few weeks, which will compound the misery for Labour.

Cooper has tabled amendments, calling for (among other things) an assessment of the impact of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants. A Labour source argues that ‘we’re not just sitting here and thinking we’re trapped and soft on immigration: we have got a more sophisticated policy than that’. Cooper has set out quite a bit of detail on this sophisticated policy, yet it sounds remarkably similar to the Conservative position, save a few bells and whistles. It is quite possible that Labour will not feel able to vote against the government’s Bill — which will charge temporary migrants for some public services and make it easier to remove those who have no right to be here. The party is paralysed by the fear of repeating its old mistakes.

For Ed Miliband, the pain is particularly acute. The Labour leader’s background and instincts are those of a metropolitan liberal. He is fond of talking about how Britain gave sanctuary to his father, describing it as a warm-hearted country with open arms. Yet, as he knows, this is not how his target voters see things. On this, as on many policy areas, Miliband accepts the polls and takes the advice of his ‘Blue Labour’ colleagues Jon Cruddas and Marc Stears. He has to argue against his own intellectual position — and do so convincingly.

One former Labour adviser, deeply unimpressed by this ‘wholly strategic’ approach, believes his boss will not be able to keep up the pretence. ‘He will get found out in the end,’ he says. ‘The Labour party has got nothing to say on the big issues: it talks about cost of living to mask that. What question is Ed Miliband the answer to? I seriously don’t know. But this is not a progressive way of talking about immigration at all.’

Talking tough on immigration might be rather uncomfortable for Miliband and his team, but it is far less painful than addressing some of the problems that explain why the immigrants come. The unreformed welfare system means people on benefits in Britain can face an effective tax rate of up to 95 per cent on their earnings. Some of the Romanians are able to pay just 10 per cent tax, thanks to a loophole that leaves them subject to Romanian taxation. Some Labourites believe that radical reform is the answer, but it remains a touchy subject. Liam Byrne was booted out of the welfare job last autumn because of the rage he provoked whenever he punted a vaguely robust plan for reform.

Even Miliband needs to spend weeks deliberating with his party before making any tough announcement on benefits. It took four weeks of meetings with Labour backbenchers in the summer before they could announce the party was dropping its support for universal benefits, and that it would cap welfare spending.

The days of Tony Blair’s ‘Napoleonic’ style of leadership are gone, and in their place come Miliband’s ‘squaring’ meetings.  For immigration announcements, Miliband has apparently felt the need to win support from only two other internal critics: Diane Abbott and Sadiq Khan. More such meetings will be needed while Miliband works on his party’s own ideas to curtail freedom of movement in the European Union — focusing on the right to work in Britain, not the right to live here. This may well form part of Labour’s offer to voters for the European elections. But even this simply mirrors announcements already made by Conservative ministers.

Even now, as the polls and the bookmakers agree that Ed Miliband is 18 months away from power, Labour is frightened of having its own distinctive immigration policy. The question is whether that will disappoint voters who are looking for tough measures — and polls show that this is, economy aside, still the issue that troubles British voters the most.

As Vince Cable observed this week, the Tories did not have a very well-thought-through position on immigration at the last election — but it was argued then that they didn’t really need one. They were the party trusted most on the issue. Labour has no such luxury. If Miliband’s target voters remain unsure that he believes what he says, they might still think the safest bet is to vote Conservative.

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  • MalcolmRedfellow

    What are those “big issues … [Labour] talks about cost of living to mask”? This overview makes them sound remarkably akin to the Spectator agenda.

    As of now, we are in a bout of the usual English bourgeois hysteria. It comes around regularly, like bouts of ‘flu, and — almost without exception — it’s a variety of the Yellow Peril virus (first diagnosed locally in the Hyde Park demonstration of March 1904). Our chains are being yanked by some unscrupulous right-wing groups, egged on by the likes of Richard Desmond’s press. Such things will pass: they almost always do.

    Meanwhile, a real “big issue” — skimmed milk and gruel for the many to provide cream for Fat Cats — goes well-and-truly “masked” by such fluffery. Make work really worth the effort, skill-up the unemployed, stop the loopholes which make it cheaper to import labour than employ the indigenous (i.e address Polly Toynbee’s piece for The Guardian). If that’s what you designate as Mr Miliband’s “own intellectual position”, it’s a pretty sound one. And no “mask”.

    Now watch for the usual boot-boys to arrive and deny all not. I hope, for once, they offer meat-and-drink, and not recycled Kipper pap.

    • MalcolmRedfellow

      “5↓” and trending further!

      Good! Great! Proves my point that the window-lickers who frequent this site (not necessarily to be confused with us true Spectator readers) have an agenda. And it doesn’t embrace those issues I tried to propose. Allow me to repeat myself: Make work really worth the effort, skill-up the unemployed, stop the loopholes which make it cheaper to import labour than employ the indigenous. More positive stuff than stereotyping and Moslem-bashing (as seen adjacently).

      • Alexsandr

        here is a vote down for the last rant
        If you don’t get your own way in an argument, resort to insults.
        Always reinforces the argument -NOT

        • MalcolmRedfellow

          So para 4 of drydamol1 not even a trifle paranoid, huh? But still no response to my positive suggestion that the problem is economic rather than migration, and — in part — should be addressed by “Make work really worth the effort, skill-up the unemployed, stop the loopholes which make it cheaper to import labour than employ the indigenous”?

          But that, in the CBI’s definition, would involve another unwelcome interference with “The flexible labour market in this country”.

          • Alexsandr

            Muslims are only supposed to have wives they can support. So I think its reasonable to deny benefits to polygamists.
            Yes we need to sort out the education of UK youth. Stopping the loopholes may be hard due to international treaties we are party to (Why did we sign then them?) And we need to make sure kids have the soft skills needed, like turning up on time, appropriately dressed and with a good attitude.1
            and I don’t accept that a lot of immigration does not have a benefit for the majority of the existing population.

          • MalcolmRedfellow

            Take, for an obvious example, that Swedish Derogation — if only because it’s in the news, too complicated for Kippers to grasp, and it is the immediate reason why UK jobs are being advertised in Romanian on local websites but not in the UK.

            The issue there is that now (not when it was promulgated) it is interpreted differently here, which means to the detriment of UK would-be workers, than it is in Sweden. Whom to blame — the big employers and agencies, or the Court which supports their interpretation?

          • Alexsandr

            why not tell us about the Swedish derogation here. Keep it simple for us swivel eyed loons though.

          • MalcolmRedfellow

            My, my: swivel-eyed loons incapable of using Google! Schlock, horror!

            Well, now, ACAS has a Dummies’s Guide. In my most-humble opinion, Pinsent Mason have a useful comment on how UK government torpor (that’s government of both persuasions, by the way) and Court interpretation have changed the UK version of the original section 10 of the Agency Workers Regulations. If you want a partial and exclusively-contractor point-of-view, I’ll leave that to you. I just suggest, for a rounded view, you also take a gander at the TUC take.

            Furthermore, as you clearly need instruction in the use of search engines …

          • Tom

            Skill up the unemployed we have people leaving University who can’t get a job.
            There are several immigrants where I work who sweep up you don’t need skill for that.

          • MalcolmRedfellow

            That’s about the first time I’ve seen it argued that a University gave one a “skill”.

            Or, as GB Shaw had it (Man and Superman, 1903):

            TANNER. A little moderation, Tavy, you observe. You would tell me to draw it mild, But this chap has been educated. What’s more, he knows that we haven’t. What was that board school of yours,Straker?
            STRAKER. Sherbrooke Road.
            TANNER. Sherbrooke Road! Would any of us say Rugby! Harrow! Eton! in that tone of intellectual snobbery? Sherbrooke Road is a place where boys learn something; Eton is a boy farm where we are sent because we are nuisances at home, and because in after life, whenever a Duke is mentioned, we can claim him as an old schoolfellow.
            STRAKER. You don’t know nothing about it, Mr. Tanner. It’s not the Board School that does it: it’s the Polytechnic.
            TANNER. His university, Octavius. Not Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Dublin or Glasgow. Not even those Nonconformist holes in Wales. No, Tavy. Regent Street, Chelsea, the Borough — I don’t know half their confounded names: these are his universities, not mere shops for selling class limitations like ours. You despise Oxford, Enry, don’t you?
            STRAKER. No, I don’t. Very nice sort of place, Oxford, I should think, for people that like that sort of place. They teach you tobe a gentleman there. In the Polytechnic they teach you to be anengineer or such like. See?

            A century plus a decade later, and we still can’t come up with a proper technical education.

      • JackyTreehorn

        “Make work really worth the effort” Well if 3milliion unskilled immigrants hadn’t been invited into this country by Labour with their future vote recruitment drive, the nasty capitalist bosses would have had to pay more to the indigenous working man. But that is probably to simple for a bien pensant intellectual to figure out.
        As for Muslim bashing there would be very little if they didn’t make it so bloody easy with their behaviour in regards to unemployment,extremism( I know they are not all extreme but they seem to be able to come out onto the streets and demonstrate about cartoons and the Iraq war but seem very reticent to complain about the Lee Rigby atrocity and the 7/7 suicide bombers) and growing prison population, at the moment standing at 13% and rising and even higher for young offenders. The Left kicked the working man in the goolies and have the temerity to blame “thebankersthebonuses”
        I speak as one of the ‘working class’ who has seen job opportunities and wages shrink because of the competition of immigration, thanks very much. And the reason why you’re trending down is because you are a minority view and out of touch with the real world that we the ‘working class’ live in

  • drydamol1


    New Labour under Spin Spiv Blair following John Majors
    train of irrational thinking decided to let immigration go unchecked ,listening
    to Civil servants estimated figures instead .Those figures were out by a factor
    of 10 instead of 13,000 we ended up with 130,000 yearly .There was never any
    Public discussion about the issue which affects us all .

    Traitor Blair is now promoting Albania to join the EU .

    Politicians can argue until they are blue in the face
    Immigration is detrimental to the UK ,it was deemed to have economic benefits
    by a handful of Economists who wrote a report which suited the Treasury ,the
    Banks ,Employers and the Government all for the wrong reasons .

    A Muslim man with
    four spouses – which is permitted under Islamic law – could receive £10,000 a
    year in income support alone. He could also be entitled to more generous
    housing and council tax benefit, to reflect the fact his household needs a
    bigger property .

    Whatever mistakes and however big we the Public suffer
    for Politicians lack of thinking .Our Welfare State has been Decimated to pay
    for Immigrants we cannot stop coming here .

    If brains were dynamite a Politician would not have
    enough to blow his hat off .


    • David Prentice

      Not to mention the cost of the specialist NHS care needed for the offspring of his children’s marriages to their first cousins!

    • Pip

      Yet another MSM article debating Immigration whilst ignoring the 3 million plus mostly unskilled, Islamic Immigrants encouraged to settle here by New Labour between 2001 and 2010. Debating issues whilst ignoring core elements of the debate is as pointless and insulting as those in the MSM and Westminster who attempt to hoodwink the public with their disingenuous nonsense.

  • alabenn

    This shows how far the media in this country has sunk, pimping the views of a confused immigrant to confirm their own views, it is also a cheap way to fill in the empty part of their agenda, the empty bit or public rejection, take your pick.

    • Pip

      Their arrogance will be their undoing, personally I like to see the MSM lying and twisting the reality as all it is doing is expediting their downfall.

  • Chris

    No. We resent them for turning the country into an Islamic police state. But you “journslists” have contributed to ensuring the conversation remains fixed on east europeans. NO ONE IS FOOLED.

    • Pip

      Fraser Nelson is one of the worst for being disingenuous and Pro Establishment, over the past few years the Spectator has evolved into little more than an Establishment Propaganda machine.

  • David Kay

    i think miliband should encourage asylum seekers and their families to return home once the danger to them in their country has passed. He should then put himself on the first ferry back to belgium where his dad came from. No nazis there no more, he should go back, Belgium could do with him, he’s just going to ruin our country with the communist ideology his commie immigrant dad indoctrinated him in from birth.

    • Alexsandr

      heck!. sending him to Belgium. now that IS abusing his human rights!

    • crosscop

      The Milibands are rootless nomads forever heading west. Russian Poland to Belgium to Britain to the USA. Dave’s made the latest westward leap. Ed will no doubt follow when the time is right. He has no roots here.

    • Pip

      The best thing that could happen to the UK would be if Miliband and all his vile perverted lefty MPs and Union Bosses left our shores for pastures new, I would recommend Romania as it seems to have plenty of room at the moment but I doubt even the Romanians who suffer them for long.

  • crosscop

    Miliband has admitted that Labour got it wrong on immigration but I see no calls for the mistake to be rectified by Labour promising to deport those they stupidly allowed in.

    • saffrin

      Miliband has gone so far as to offer one apprenticeship for every third worlder we allow in. He hasn’t however gone so far as to verify if it’s one of our own that got the apprenticeship or one of his third worlders.
      Further more, his latest bleat about workers rights as regards the foreign agency staff that are having their rights curtailed by dodgy employment agencies but fails to consider the homegrown agency workers that are faced with the exact same problem.

    • Pip

      Anyone who would believe for one minute that it was merely a mistake on the part of Labour to open our borders to 2.8 million unskilled immigrants mostly of Muslim persuasion between 2001 and 2010 is as simple minded as Labour are dishonest. It was all intentional and for that alone all who were in Government at the time deserve to be jailed for life and that includes Miliband and Balls.

  • Tom M

    The very picture of that vacant eyed stupid woman makes my blood boil.
    I amuse myself with recalling when she was First Secretary to the Treasury.
    On Moneybox R4 talking to the boss of Equifax. He was explaining to her that because of government legislation to limit the charge every credit score inquiry made to his firm cost him money. He lost about £1M per annum he reckoned.
    Up pipes Yvette “surely in that £1M you could find money to ……..”.
    I near went into the ditch laughing at that. Very funny if she wasn’t part of the team running Britain at the time. Socialist economics I believe its called.

  • Agrippina

    No-one trusts the 3 parties on immigration. So instead of listening to more nonsense, it is better to try someone else to put Brits 1st and ensure that employers here, have to train and provide jobs for the youngsters here, as opposed to cheap foreign labour.

    The 3 party troughers are very keen to ensure cheap immigrant labour to keep profits high for their chums in business. They do not care that the standard of living for hardworking Brits is falling and wages are at the levels circa 1930’s (FT).

  • Foeu

    “…they might still think the safest bet is to vote Conservative.”
    The safest bet is to vote UKIP.
    If only the electorate would vote for what they want rather than voting tactically they would get the government they want. If we go on like this it will be just ping pong between two failed Parties with the appalling Lib Dems controlling them.

  • I fear that only in bad economic times are foreign migrants mostly scapegoated, and that isn’t healthy for our society. We should not blame foreigners for low wages or lack of affordable housing; not only because of the dangers of doing so
    (rise in racism and xenophobia) but also because I don’t believe they are to

    Were there many complaints from 2004 when the Poles and their fellow East Europeans arrived in the UK, cleaning our houses, serving us in restaurants, and picking our strawberries? Our economy was booming and we were happy to hire them. Only after the 2008 world-wide financial crash did we start to blame them. But that wasn’t their fault, and all the working classes, of all nationalities, are suffering from that crisis.

    If the UK accepts that migrants from other EU countries are allowed to live and
    work here, then we should prepare for that and improve our local
    infrastructures accordingly. We need to build many more houses for all our
    population. The minimum wage needs to be increased and more robustly enforced.
    Employers who hire illegal immigrants, or who abuse legitimate foreign and
    local labour, need to be caught, stopped and punished accordingly.

    We also need to upskill our young people, whose horizons should be much higher
    than to compete with those coming here for low-skilled, low-waged jobs. We need
    a highly skilled, highly paid British workforce. That’s only going to happen if
    we invest heavily in the lifelong learning of all our citizens; otherwise our
    workers here will be competing on price, rather than skills, and that will
    impoverish us all.

    We should also encourage Britons to be much more entrepreneurial. Back in the
    1990s my films on becoming self-employed were shown in Job Centres across the
    country, helping unemployed people to become self-employed. Where are the schemes like that today?

    We should welcome foreign workers here as much as we would hope to be welcomed when Britons go to work in other EU countries. And remember the numbers are balanced – about two million EU migrants are here; about two million British migrants are living and working in other EU countries.
    I understand that people may be fearful of immigration, but most of that in my opinion has been stirred up by irresponsible media stories. On this, see my latest blog: ‘Buses, planes, Bulgaria, Romania and the Daily Mail’ – http://www.dailymail.eu-rope.com

  • pobinr

    Bearing in mind 20 times as many Poles came here than predicted, it was perfectly reasonable of UKIP to raise concerns as to how many Romanians might come here. It’s not ‘scare mongering’ as Paxman claimed recently.
    Maybe less have come. That doesn’t mean they won’t come.
    Romania is same area as the UK, but a 3rd of the population.
    It’s absurd for more than handful to be permitted to come here just adding to our congested roads, full schools, NHS at breaking point & housing shortage not forgetting our full prisons !

    28,000 Romanians are held for crimes in London. Romanians
    come second on the list of foreign nationals arrested by police for serious crimes.
    This includes 142 rapes, 10 murders, 666 sex crimes, 303 robberies, 1370 burglaries, 2902 acts of violence.

    Immigration watch estimate 50,000 Romanians a year for the next 5 years!
    Do we really need another quarter of a million people here?
    & that’s from just one country alone!
    Most will be looking for jobs in Costa or car washes on min wage!
    What benefit is that to me?
    The social housing queue in Southampton has gone from 18 months eight years ago to 8+ years now with 10,100 on the waiting list!
    Open border policy is totally irresponsible.
    It’s not surprising that the popular view now is we need to take back control of immigration.
    However the left’s new name for the opinions & preference of the majority is ‘populism.’
    I call it ‘Democracy’ !