Andy McSmith's Sketch: Some will see only the pratfall, but Chris Bryant has got hold of the agenda

Sketch: When attacking an organisation that big, it is not a bad idea to be in command of your facts

Chris Bryant is a brainy fellow. He radiates self assurance. He is just the kind of clever-clever type that people long to see taking a pratfall. Today, and over the weekend, he did. The glee of the commentariat is palpable. By common consent, today was a disaster day for Mr Bryant. How did it happen?

There have been complaints all through the summer that Labour seemed to have nothing to say. The Tories have been everywhere, even sending vans into areas with a high concentration of immigrants to tell those who are here illegally to “go home” – but from Labour, scarcely a word.

Mr Bryant, the shadow immigration minister, decided to put that right by delivering a big speech that disavowed “cheap and nasty” anti-immigrant sentiment and praised the work of great immigrants through the centuries, from Simon de Montfort to Winston Churchill (De Montfort was a controversial figure, and Churchill was not an immigrant, although his mother was – but let’s not get picky). His target audience was precisely the unemployed or struggling Britons who feel crowded out of the jobs market by the incomers.

His message to them was not to blame their plight on people who have come to Britain to work for low wages under grim working conditions, but on the “unscrupulous” firms who hire them.

Bryant alleged that some firms aimed their recruitment ads exclusively at foreign nationals, who had to pay their own way to get to the UK and when they arrived were paid less than the minimum wage. “I’ve seen two-bedroom flats turned into pits for nine men, with a 24-hour rota for the beds,” he said. “I’ve seen fast food outlets with a shack for employees to live in – beds in sheds.” He suggested a few ways to deal with these miscreant firms, such as a mandatory register for landlords, and stricter enforcement of the minimum wage.

That much was sensible enough, but Mr Bryant is too ambitious to settle for “sensible”. Having spent this year and last in combat with Rupert Murdoch’s vast media conglomerate, he could not resist taking a swipe at another commercial giant, by briefing out in advance a version of the speech which contained some unflattering remarks about Tesco.

But when attacking an organisation that big, it is not a bad idea to be in command of your facts. If you must accuse them of undercutting wages at a distribution centre in Kent, for example, it is best to be sure that they have a distribution centre  in Kent.

Mr Bryant broke that basic rule, and first thing this morning, he had to appear on the BBC’s Today programme to correct the comments he had not yet made in a speech he delivered, in revised form, later the same morning.

It was certainly embarrassing, but those who write off the episode as a complete disaster are possibly missing the point.

After weeks of near total silence, the Labour Party burst on to the airwaves today, at the top of the bulletins, talking about immigration and the problems of being British and unemployed. It was not elegantly done, but it was a start.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?