Chris Bryant on immigration, employment and his trial by media: My day in the Thick of It
Even without the Tesco and Next controversy it was going to be busy. Chris Bryant takes us through his day in the public eye
Sunday, 11.15pm I try to work out whether the alarm on my rather battered phone will work if I put it on silent. In the end I opt for airplane mode.
5.55am It works. A shave and shower, a bowl of granola (how very American!) and a cup of Redbush tea.
6.20am The Daybreak cab arrives and the phone calls start, mostly from other news outlets wanting to circumvent the Labour press office. Daybreak had worried that it would take 30 minutes to get to their studios on the South Bank. We are there in eight.
6.28am Makeup. I hate the stuff, but they insist that it makes us less glossy or shiny. In the end I keep it on for the rest of the morning’s interviews.
7.05am ITV Daybreak. The interviewers tell me beforehand that they think I am merely saying what everyone else is thinking, and their vox pop in Harlow seems to confirm my point, but they give me a hard time nonetheless. They ask, have I got my facts right on Tesco and Next? I say that I was never accusing them of paying less than the minimum wage, but I do worry about the one million youngsters in the UK who are unemployed while large companies resort to recruiting from overseas.
7.15am Leave the ITV studios for BBC Breakfast. It turns out that I am wearing the wrong tie. I thought it was plain and simple, but it is striped green and blue, the two colours they use for chroma key backgrounds. So, if I keep it on I will have parts of the backdrop picture of Westminster shining through my chest. The BBC offer me a strange looking club-like tie, which I fear might align me with some unknown organisation, so instead my poor researcher has to surrender his trendy and very skinny grey affair.
7.40am BBC Breakfast interview. A repeat of Daybreak, but down the line to Salford. I point to the recruitment agencies that only recruit in Poland and in languages other than English. Not illegal, but not fair either.
8.05am Stuck in the box/radio studio just off the hallway at 4 Millbank doing Today with Evan Davies (with whom I was at university). He’s quite rufty tufty and spends most the interview asking about process points – who said what to whom. I hold my ground, pointing out that maybe the reason there have been no prosecutions for breaches of the national minimum wage since 2010 is because the two parties in government opposed its introduction. Evan then asks, what is Labour’s economic policy? I say that thanks to the Tory Government we have had three years of unnecessary economic woe which has certainly felt like a recession to the many people whose real wages have fallen. He actually commends me for my “crispness” but wants to know whether Labour shouldn’t be in better fettle. I make the point that we are still, and for the first time ever, 20 months away from a fixed-term election and add that “if there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the last 48 hours it is that sometimes in August process stories get far more coverage than substance”.
8.30am Back to the mini TV studio with the chroma key (change tie again) for the BBC News Channel. Ditto.
8.40am Now in the even less glamorous radio boothette, I have to wait until Dai Greene has run his race in Moscow before Radio 5 Live take me and we rehearse the same discussion. It’s the most robust yet.
9.00am Back to my office in Portcullis House to finish the speech.
9.30am Arrive at the Local Government Association, text in hand, to deliver what I hope is a cogent, reflective argument about how we can make immigration work better for everyone.
10.02am Sarah Mulley, of the Institute for Public Policy Research, introduces me two minutes late in order to accommodate Sky, which is broadcasting the whole speech live (something that last happened, ironically enough, when I attacked News Corp in the House of Commons). It all seems to go fine. I talk about the value migrants have brought throughout history to the UK and the challenges of today, about the problem of sham marriages and Italian ID cards, and about the push factors such as coastal erosion due to climate change that force people to become environmental refugees.
10.30am All the journalists’ questions are about the row with Tesco and Next. I say these are important issues that need to be debated.
11.15am Back in my office. My inbox is inundated with emails from people agreeing with me and giving me yet more instances of poor employment practices that effectively exclude local workers from the labour market.
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