Labour frontbenchers are going on an immigration 'listening tour' around Britain

First stop: Wolverhampton

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Indy Politics

Senior Labour figures are to go on an “immigration listening tour” around Britain to gauge public views on the subject, the party has announced.

Immigration is the most important issue to people in the UK, according to the long-running Ipsos MORI issues index.

46 per cent of the public mention immigration when asked what they care about, with health and the NHS in second place on 38. The economy is far behind on 26 per cent.

Though a long-running complaint for some, the issue had seen renewed prominence as a result of the refugee crisis stemming from the Syrian civil war.

Andy Burnham, the shadow home secretary, said his party should not deny that migration had had an effect in some areas.

He said his party should “deal directly and honestly” with the issue.

“Labour needs a plan to win back the voters we failed to convince on immigration,” he said.  

“We will not succeed in doing that by denying the effect that migration has had on some communities.

"EU free movement is, overall, beneficial to our society and economy. But it has a different input on different places. 

Andy Burnham is calling for Labour to take immigration seriously as an issue (Rex)

“In some of our more deprived areas, it has put pressure on public services and undermined jobs and wages. If politicians don't understand and acknowledge that, then we will continue to look out of touch.

“For too long, Labour has been uncomfortable discussing immigration. This listening tour is an attempt to change that and deal directly and honestly with it.”

Mr Burnham will kick-off the three month tour with a visit to Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, alongside Keir Starmer, a shadow Home Office minister.

“This is not intended to be an easy or comfortable exercise. It is a genuine attempt to listen to and learn from the public on the issues of migration and refugees,” Mr Starmer said.

“There are many, varied and legitimate views on migration across the Labour party and the UK. Many Labour voters and supporters are worried about migration and their concerns are our concerns.”

At Labour's conference last year Mr Burnham proposed that areas that saw high immigration should get more money from a special fund to support under-pressure public services.

He has suggested that the European Union could play a role in funding this approach.

An internal party report into why Labour lost the last election concluded that the party’s approaches to two issues – immigration and social security – were in large part to blame for its loss.

Other mistakes flagged up by the Beckett Report included the threat of Labour bringing the Scottish National Party into government and the perceived personal weakness of Ed Miliband as a leader.

The party went into the last election promising “controls on immigration” including reforms to EU social security rules.