A close ally of Ed Miliband has urged Labour to combat the threat from Ukip by proposing curbs on migration to Britain from other European Union countries.
John Denham, the former Cabinet minister, said Labour should abandon its “politically correct” approach to immigration and listen to people with Labour values who are worried about the issue.
Mr Denham, formerly Mr Miliband’s parliamentary aide, said: “Many of the EU citizens who entitled to come here are people we would reject if they came from anywhere else… If voters ask good questions, ignoring them is not a wise political strategy.”
Writing on the LabourList website, Mr Denham argued: “For the foreseeable future, it would be better if fewer EU migrants came here. That way we can create a more balanced labour market and reduce future pressures on services and housing. So we should work actively to reduce the number of EU migrants coming to the UK, and move closer to the relationship we have with the rest of the world.”
He called on Labour to “lead the debate” about changing EU rules on free movement rather than defend the current system. He added: “This won’t be a swift argument to win, but we will get more credit for trying than for avoiding the issue. [Angela] Merkel won’t let Germany pay for southern Europe. Why should we cope with the migration consequences if Eurozone failure?”
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is seeking some curbs on free movement after arrivals from southern Europe scuppered the Tories’ hopes of reducing net migration to under 100,000 a year by next year, but Labour has called only for delays to free movement rights when new member states join the EU.
Mr Denham’s intervention will fuel a heated debate in Labour’s ranks after Ukip captured more working class votes than Labour had expected in last month’s Euro elections. Allies of Mr Miliband believe there would be little chance of persuading the other 27 EU members to reduce migration. “We want realistic and credible reforms, not pie in the sky options,” one said.
Tony Blair meanwhile has accused Nigel Farage of "traducing" Britain ,"deceiving" voters and fuelling grievances about immigration and Europe. He urged politicians not to pander to "unpleasant prejudices" and an "attitude which says we don't like foreigners".
Speaking at the London Business School, the former Prime Minister said: “It's very dangerous and wrong for the leaders of British politics to think you are going to address the concerns of people who are worried about jobs, their future... to play into an idea that what's holding them back is someone else is coming along and taking their opportunity from them. It isn't true.”
David Cameron said freedom of movement was not an "unqualified right", adding: “When new countries join there should be much longer transitional controls, particularly when you've got countries with very different economic levels so we avoid the large migrations of the past.”
The Conservatives are on course to win Thursday’s by-election in Newark, according to a poll by Lord Ashcroft, the party’s former deputy chairman. It puts the Tories on 42 per cent, Ukip on 27 per cent and Labour on 20 per cent. A national poll by him shows Labour on 34 per cent, the Tories on 25 per cent, Ukip on 19 per cent and the Liberal Democrats six per cent, their lowest since the Coalition was formed.