The Labour Party does "need to talk much more about immigration", Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper says today as Westminster parties continue to deal with the fallout from Ukip's double by-election earthquake.
Writing for The Independent on Sunday, Ms Cooper says that Ukip and the Conservatives are exploiting people's fears with “the politics of division, blame and scorn”, while Labour should not imitate Nigel Farage's party but take it on.
Her intervention follows calls from some Labour MPs, including former home secretary Jack Straw, for Ed Miliband to harden his party's position on immigration after Ukip came within 617 votes of beating Labour in the formerly safe seat of Heywood and Middleton. Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary and one-time acting leader of the Labour Party, also makes an intervention by saying that Mr Miliband has the same "genuine heartfelt understanding of people's lives" and "steely determination" of both Clement Attlee and John Smith.
David Cameron is under pressure to do more to deal with the threat of Ukip to his own party after the defector Douglas Carswell won the Clacton by-election with a stunning 60 per cent of the popular vote. Fresh from their victory in the Essex seaside town and their close call in Greater Manchester, Mr Farage and Mr Carswell descended on Rochester in Kent yesterday with the second defector, Mark Reckless, who will fight a by-election there next month. Mr Farage said that Ukip was "targeting everybody in this campaign", adding: "Let's make the people's army of Ukip march on Rochester and Strood."
In her article, Ms Cooper says that Labour has to "work harder than ever – talking more about all the things people are worried about, setting out more practical answers and giving people hope and optimism for the future. Our answer isn't to imitate Ukip; it must be to take them and the Tories on".
Ms Cooper adds: "And, yes, we do need to talk much more about immigration. Some people think it is right wing to talk about immigration or to want any reform. That's nonsense. The free market right wants a wide, open border in the interests of cheap labour, while the reactionary right wants to build a wall to keep the world out."
A Labour government would introduce a system of "fair movement, not free movement", with stronger border controls and a crackdown on the exploitation and low pay of migrant workers.
The Shadow Home Secretary adds: "But we can't win the argument if we don't talk about the problems people have or if we're not prepared to take Ukip and the Tories on – be it on jobs, insecurity, immigration, our NHS, reforming failing politics or giving people more power over their lives and communities."
Mrs Beckett, in an article for The IoS, says that Labour's response to Ukip must be to "seek to change our country for the better". She adds: "I don't envy the task Ed Miliband faces over the next seven months. But I supported Ed's leadership of the Labour Party from the beginning because, in him, I saw a rare quality in Westminster – genuine empathy.
"His style of leadership is a million miles from the shallow salesmanship of David Cameron or the boorish populism of Nigel Farage. In Ed Miliband, I see the same intelligence, the same genuine, heartfelt understanding of people's lives, yet also the same steely determination, that reminds me of two other Labour leaders – Clement Attlee and John Smith.
"Ed Miliband's solutions might not have the tabloid appeal of an unfunded tax giveaway or a glib promise on immigration that can't and won't be kept. Ed's answer is a genuinely thoughtful and serious attempt to understand and solve the problems we all face."
Paul Sykes, the multimillionaire Yorkshire businessman who is Ukip's biggest financial backer, said last night that he hoped the Conservative MP John Redwood and the Labour MP Frank Field, both Eurosceptics, would defect to Ukip. Mr Sykes, who earlier this week was put in charge of Ukip's campaign team, targeting marginal seats and developing a national strategy in the run-up to next May's election, said: "They are men of great integrity and we would like to see them in the party. I hope I can persuade them; this is an open invitation."
But last night Mr Field, who in the wake of the Heywood by-election warned Mr Miliband that Ukip was eating into Labour's "neglected core vote", told The IoS he was not defecting to Ukip. He said: "I have spoken to Paul Sykes many times over the past 10 years and in those conversations I have tried many times to get money out of him for good causes but I have failed, and he will fail to entice me to Ukip."
Mr Cameron is under pressure from some Tory backbenchers to consider an electoral pact with Ukip to ensure a Conservative victory next May. But Mr Farage rejected the idea, saying Ukip was "not a splinter" of the Tories. And a source close to Mr Cameron said: "We don't do pacts. We'll put forward our long-term plan for Britain to the voters at the election and they will decide. We don't think voters want to see parties stitching up deals with each other before the election."