A close ally of Gordon Brown has attacked the Labour and Tory leaderships for conducting a "hysterical" debate about immigration and accused them of "demonising" migrant workers.
Jack Dromey, the Labour Party treasurer, has accused David Cameron of "playing the immigration card" in his recent calls for an annual limit on the number of people coming to Britain.
But he also raises doubts about the Prime Minister's controversial pledge to provide "British jobs for British workers" and urges the two main parties to stop competing with each other to look tougher on immigration, warning that they are fuelling "xenophobia".
Writing in The Independent, the deputy general secretary of the Unite trade union called for an "intelligent" debate on immigration instead of the "increasingly hysterical" one taking place. He will make the same plea today when he gives evidence to a House of Lords inquiry into the economic impact of immigration.
Mr Dromey accuses Mr Cameron of resorting to the "dog-whistle politics" of his predecessor Michael Howard and voiced the simmering criticism within Labour's ranks of Mr Brown's slogan, which has previously been used by the far right British National Party and National Front.
The Prime Minister insists he was talking about a scheme to urge employers to fill Britain's 600,000 vacancies from the unemployed register. But Mr Dromey accuses Mr Brown of setting up a false choice, arguing that Britain can both allow in migrant workers and prevent British workers being left behind.
Mr Dromey's intervention was welcomed last night by Labour MPs, many of whom are unhappy about Mr Brown's promise.
Neil Gerrard, Labour chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, said that Mr Brown's comment was "not helpful" and that the Prime Minister should choose his words more carefully. He added: "Jack Dromey is absolutely right. We are in danger of this turning into hysteria and a competition between the parties about who can sound toughest. The debate is being framed by numbers rather than by what migrant workers we need and ensuring they have responsible conditions and rights of work."
Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, who has accused Mr Brown of "employment apartheid," said: "I strongly welcome all calls to ensure a well-balanced and well-informed debate on immigration."
Nick Clegg, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said Mr Dromey was right. "The two parties are conspiring to mislead the public and mishandle the issue in spectacular fashion," he said. "Brown is continuing in the tradition of his predecessor by combining headline-grabbing populism with administrative incompetence."
He said the "British jobs for British workers" slogan was "unenforceable and perpetuates the idea that there is a fixed pool of labour and migrants stealing jobs from hard-pressed Britons".
Damian Green, the Tory spokesman on immigration, denied that Mr Cameron was playing the immigration card and pointed out that his stance had won praise from Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. "We do need an intelligent debate but throwing around tired old political clichés is not the way to promote it," he said.
Mr Green denied that the Tories were whipping up hysteria on the issue. "The change in the debate is dictated by the facts. People are more worried about immigration than they were 10 years ago because it is much higher. This is not being whipped up by politicians or tabloid newspapers but a genuine worry by local authorities and other public services that the system is finding it difficult to cope," he said.Reuse content