Making a bad situation worse – why Labour will be making a mistake if it follows Lord Glasman’s line on immigration.



The press is buzzing today with the news that the ‘Blue Labour’ guru, Lord Maurice Glasman, has come down decisively against virtually all forms of immigration. But isn’t this just another example of politicians wildly over-promising what can be done to limit migration, and setting up public opinion for another round of cynical disillusionment with politics?

The Daily Telegraph led on the news, and this was later picked up in the Daily Mail. Lord Glasman, if he has been reported accurately, is suggesting that the time has come for a “dramatic change” in policy and that migrants should be admitted only on a “case-by-case basis” if it can be shown that their specific skills are needed.

To achieve this objective be is prepared to push for the wholesale renegotiation of the European Union treaty with a view to ending the right of free movement for EU citizens.

In setting out his stall in this way the prominent advisor to the Labour leadership is going far further than the policies of the coalition government on this issue. Compared to Lord Glasman, the Home Office appears to be comparatively moderate in its plans to reduce current net levels of migration to the ‘tens of thousands’ by 2015.

In reality there are immense practical problems in the way of Glasman’s proposals. The task of demanding a fundamental renegotiation of the EU treaty would not be received well by other member states whose energies at the moment are wholly taken up with combating the sovereign debt crisis and the threat it poses to the eurozone. Any effort to end the right of free movement would effectively mean a coup de grace for structures which are already in deep crisis.

In the event that free movement rights are scrapped a British government would have to contend, amongst many other shocks and tremors caused by such a drastic move, with the more than one million British nationals who live and work in other EU countries. If the legal structures which underpin their rights to work and provide services across the continent were ended we could expect impacts which are considerably greater than the effects of the ordered migration of workers from other EU states who have come here since 2004.

Glasman appears to want to see the Labour party position itself well to the right to the coalition government on immigration, perhaps in the expectation that during the next few years it will be seen to be failing in efforts to bring about a significant reduction in net migration. However, he has to be aware that criticising the coalition on this point will require more than simply adopting a harsher, more populist rhetoric – it will require definite action.

That action will include a wholesale attack on the human rights to migrants. He appears to anticipate this in macho comments in the Telegraph piece scorning the influence of the United Nations is setting the base-line for decent humane policies.

Much of the motivation for this type of advocacy is based on the misguided idea that by stealing the clothes of right wing anti-immigrant activists it will be possible to undermine the political appeal of these groups.

This seems very naive. In the fullest analysis of apparent anti-immigrant sentiment yet published, Dr Rob Ford and Will Somerville have argued that the public responds less positively to blatant over-promising on the part of politicians on immigration matters than it does to a more realistic statement of the facts and the options which are really on the table for policy-makers. This view has been taken in an article published on the Progress online by Kate Green MP this week.

Contrary to Glasman’s view that Labour should go for the hard, bottom line on migration, Green argues “Labour must be braver and more transparent in exposing the trade-offs implicit in managing migration, and in our dialogue with the voters. After all, capping the number of migrants is a race to the bottom that we simply can’t win.

This view might not be amplified quite so loudly in the Telegraph and the Mail, but Green’s advice is likely to prove sounder than Lord Glasman’s if the Labour party is to avoid making things worse by inciting people to adopt even more hardline and unrealistic positions.

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