Monday, December 17, 2012
British Labour party leader: Labour made mistakes on immigration
But no mention of the vast pressure on schools, roads, hospitals and welfare payments that resulted from the immigration upsurge
LABOUR leader Ed Miliband today admitted his party made “mistakes” over immigration when in power – and told migrants they must learn English.
Mr Miliband said the former government failed to tackle the growing problem of racial segregation in British cities, adding that Britain needs a fresh strategy to cope with its multi-ethnic society.
He vowed not to sweep public anxieties over British cultural identity under the carpet – while praising the country’s “tolerant, open-minded society”.
The Labour leader also called on the country to back Mo Farah in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards – saying his first victory was the “defining moment” of the London Olympics.
He hailed the Games as an example of Britain’s ethnic diversity in a speech urging more direct action to further integration.
Labour would expect migrants to learn English, tackle landlords who pack migrant newcomers into overcrowded houses and ban recruitment agencies from seeking workers only from particular countries or ethnic groups, he said.
But in his high-profile speech in south London, Mr Miliband insisted that the multi-ethnic Britain revealed in this week’s census and in the summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games is a cause for celebration.
Drawing on his own parents’ experience as Jewish refugees from the Holocaust, Mr Miliband said: “We should celebrate multi-ethnic diverse Britain. We are stronger for it - and I love Britain for it.”
He continued: “Britain is at its best when it comes together as a nation, not when it stands divided. That’s what One Nation is about.
“But at the same time we know there is anxiety about immigration and what it means for our culture.
“The answer is not to sweep it under the carpet or fail to talk about it, nor is it to make promises that can’t be kept. It is to deal with all of the issues that concern people.”
He admitted that previous Labour administrations were “overly optimistic” in assuming that integration would happen by itself and that Labour did “too little to tackle the realities of segregation in communities that were struggling to cope”.
He added: “The last Labour government made mistakes in this regard. We have said we will learn lessons from eastern European migration and ensure maximum transitional controls in future.
“And we will look at how the Government’s immigration cap works in practice. “But I believe we can all cope with these pressures if we recognise them and understand how to respond.”
Calling on Britain to back Mo Farah as BBC Sports Personality of the Year, he said: “If anything was a defining moment of the Olympics, amidst so many defining moments, it was Mo Farah’s victories.
“And wasn’t that an amazing interview when he was asked: ’Wouldn’t you rather be running for Somalia?’ and he replied: ’This is my country, mate’.”
Labour has no right to lecture on immigration
Labour leader Ed Miliband's call for a 'strategy for integration' is just so much hot air
Exactly 10 years ago, a tiny campaign group captured the headlines with a startling prediction that net immigration to the UK would grow by two million over the next decade. Since this was four times more than occurred in the previous decade, the forecast was rubbished by the Home Office. Moreover, the people behind the group, Migration Watch UK, were denounced as closet racists for even raising the subject. Yet everything that Migration Watch foresaw came true; indeed, as the figures published this week from the 2011 census show, they were overly cautious.
Sir Andrew Green, the founder of the organisation, wanted to inspire a debate about immigration that he thought the politicians wilfully refused to have. There was a good reason for this: until the mid-Nineties most voters believed successive governments had operated sensible immigration controls. However, everything changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening up of the eastern borders into the EU. This resulted in a huge influx of economic migrants, many claiming to be political refugees, initially settling in Germany but eventually in the UK. By the time Labour came to power in 1997, more than 100,000 foreign nationals were claiming asylum annually compared with just a few thousand in the late Eighties.
As a result of chaotic administration at the Home Office, most of these new immigrants were allowed to remain in the country whether they were entitled to or not. At the same time, Labour abolished the “primary purpose rule”, which was intended to ensure that marriage was not being used principally as a means to enter Britain. The rules surrounding work permits became too lax, exit controls from the country were abolished, visa departments became overwhelmed and human rights law made it difficult, if not impossible, to deport illegal immigrants.
Then, in 2004, the Labour government announced that Britain would allow access to its jobs market to workers from the new members from the old Warsaw Pact bloc. It estimated that the impact would be minimal, with about 13,000 people a year coming from the eight countries, including Poland. In the event, around one million have arrived here to work. This combination of events meant that controls over immigration, rigidly applied since 1971, were lost.
Partly, this was beyond the Labour government’s control; but none the less it could – and should – have prepared for the consequences. And the main reason that it didn’t is because Labour leaders simply denied that it was happening. As a result, ministers refused to heed warnings that mass immigration would result in a shortage of housing or lead to pressure on schools, the NHS and transport. Even today – and especially with budget cuts – public services are poorly prepared for the consequences: hundreds of new primary schools, for instance, will be needed over the next 10 years for which plans have not, so far, been made.
So, for Ed Miliband, Labour’s leader, to make the speech he did yesterday stating that “the last government made mistakes” in its immigration policy is the political understatement of the decade. The difficulties that parts of the country face as a result of large-scale immigration, such as a failure of integration, a lack of affordable homes and high benefit dependency, stem from those “mistakes”.
It is pointless for Mr Miliband now to argue that the country is a better place because of the arrival of millions of newcomers. While many people might agree with that sentiment, if that was Labour’s intention all along why did they deny it was taking place? Either they were incompetent or dishonest. Furthermore, Mr Miliband’s call yesterday for a “comprehensive strategy for integration” is just so much hot air in view of his party’s track record. After trying to shut down the debate on immigration for years, Labour now seeks to claim some unique insight into the problems it has caused.
Unhappily, Labour’s failure was so spectacular that the Coalition has responded by making mistakes of its own. David Cameron’s pledge to reduce net immigration to the “tens of thousands” is not only unachievable but is arguably not in the country’s interests. Perversely, this target could be reached even with high levels of immigration if they were matched by a rise in emigration.
What Britain needs is an immigration policy that chooses the people the country wants while being honest about those it wants to exclude. Instead, we are in danger of producing a system that rejects and deters those whose presence here would be of benefit. As this week’s census illustrated, the levels of immigration seen over the past 20 years have been unprecedented in our history. Some economists argue that this has been a good thing because a vibrant economy needs a growing population to sustain it and the indigenous birth rate is unable to do so. But the fact remains that as recently as 15 years ago, ministers and officials were working on the assumption that net immigration would be a quarter of what it is now.
As the party in government for most of that time, Labour should have acknowledged what was happening and acted accordingly. It miserably failed to do so. Why Mr Miliband thinks we should listen to him now is anyone’s guess.
Posted by jonjayray at 6:48 PM