Ed Miliband will today admit that the previous Labour government made serious mistakes on immigration, as he unveils tough new policies to ensure that migrants do not squeeze British workers out of jobs.
The Labour leader will end his party's reluctance to address the issue head-on by admitting that voters are anxious about immigration. He will insist that such fears "do not make them bigots" and that his hard-edged new approach is not a lurch to the right.
In a major speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research, Mr Miliband will propose:
l A ban on employment agencies recruiting only or mainly migrants.
l An early-warning system when employers, sectors and regions have at least 25 per cent low-wage, foreign workers so local people can be trained to get more jobs.
l Tough transitional controls when new members such as Croatia and Turkey join the European Union.
l Stricter enforcement of minimum-wage laws, after evidence that many migrants are paid less than the minimum wage, with maximum fines for breaches by employers doubled to £10,000.
Immigration is a sensitive issue for Labour, whose worst moment of the 2010 election campaign came when Gordon Brown was confronted by a party supporter, Gillian Duffy, in Rochdale about the number of people from eastern Europe now living in the UK – and referred to her as a "bigoted woman" in private remarks captured by a television microphone.
In what will be seen as a mea culpa, Mr Miliband will admit today: "We became disconnected from the concerns of working people. And, to them, Labour was too quick to say 'like it or lump it.'"
Crucially, Mr Miliband will argue that immigration must be seen as an economic issue. "We were dazzled by globalisation and too sanguine about its price. By focusing exclusively on immigration's impact on growth, we lost sight of who was benefiting from that growth – and the people being squeezed in the middle who were losing out," he will say. He will add: "It was a mistake not to impose transitional controls on accession from eastern European countries. We severely underestimated the number of people who would come here."
In another departure from Mr Brown's stance, Mr Miliband will say: "I'm not going to promise 'British jobs for British workers' or pretend that a cap on a tiny fraction of migrants will solve everything.
"But we do need to offer working people a fair crack of the whip and set out a new approach to this issue which can offer real ways of addressing their legitimate concerns."
Mr Miliband will insist he is not proposing a quota of jobs for British workers. But every medium and large employer with more than 25 per cent foreign workers – double the average share of migrants in the population – should have to notify Jobcentre Plus. If necessary, local and central government would then ensure better training to help local workers fill the skills gap.
- More about: