Labour must not repeat David Cameron’s blunder by making a reckless pledge to cut immigration in response to the Ukip threat, a prominent MP has said.
Stephen Kinnock said voters instead wanted a sensible plan to allow in the workers the economy needs and which public services could cope with.
“I don’t necessarily think it has to be a cut – I think what people are looking for is a system they can believe in and can trust,” Mr Kinnock said.
The comments come amid an increasingly bitter internal Labour row about immigration policy, given further fuel by the election of a working-class Northerner to lead Ukip.
Paul Nuttall, the new leader, has boasted that he can woo disillusioned Labour supporters in the North, who are suspicious of Jeremy Corbyn’s pro-immigration stance.
Hailing victory yesterday, he said: “My ambition is not insignificant – I want to replace the Labour party and make Ukip the patriotic voice of working people.”
Some Labour backbenchers are furious with Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, accusing her of trying to stamp on any debate about immigration which could see Labour trying to “outdo Ukip”.
Meanwhile, Labour has sent out confusing signals about whether it supports Theresa May’s “red line” that curbs on free movement of people will be imposed in the Brexit talks.
Today, Mr Kinnock sought to steer a middle course, criticising previous Labour leaders of the “huge error of failing to talk enough about immigration”.
The Aberavon MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We therefore vacated the space and allowed Ukip and other nationalist voices and populist voices to step into that space.
“It’s vital that we rectify that situation and get involved in that debate properly.”
However, rather than urging Labour to focus on cutting numbers, he called for an “analysis of what our economy needs” – and a proper system to achieve that number.
Mr Kinnock said: “What was deeply damaging was Cameron saying we are going to get immigration down to the tens of thousands and consistently failing.”
The “sector-by sector” analysis could reach the conclusion that there “is a gap here which cannot be filled by indigenous British workers and we need that much immigration” – which could even see numbers rise.
Mr Kinnock backed other senior backbenchers who have warned “there is no such thing as a safe seat”, in the current febrile political atmosphere.
But he spoke of his confidence that Labour could see off Ukip, which was “nationalist and isolationist” with its fierce attacks on other European leaders.
Mr Kinnock said: “In Labour, we are patriots. We stand for the values that make this country great and treat other countries with the respect that they deserve. We need to set that clear vision out.”Reuse content