Why Labour is losing the immigration debate

Confronted with Ukip’s scaremongering, the party vacillates


In just over a month, after an extraordinary campaign, voters will go to the polls at the European election. Extraordinary because, when it comes to the central contest between the two parties that most polls have in first and second place – Labour and Ukip – Labour has been wholly absent.

Yes, there have been events, announcements and doors knocked, but almost nothing that directly challenges the politics of division peddled by Ukip. For example, in March, Ed Miliband mounted his biggest intervention to date on Europe, yet avoided any mention of Labour’s closest challenger. It’s as if Nigel Farage has become Labour’s Voldemort – he whose name cannot be mentioned. The reason is simple: immigration.

When confronted with Ukip’s scaremongering about European immigration, Labour vacillates. Instead of making a clear case on the benefits of immigration for Britain, Labour spokespeople tie themselves up in knots of apologia.

Last week, Yvette Cooper gave a typically convoluted Labour speech on the topic. There was the mandatory apology for past immigration from Eastern Europe, an acknowledgement of the contribution from some migrants, such as international students, and a pledge to crack down on unscrupulous employers who fail to pay the minimum wage. The latter points are valid but the speech failed to make the single most important argument on migration: that immigrants put more into Britain than they take out.

Their net contribution – equivalent to more than 4p on the basic rate of income tax, according to calculations  by the Organisation for Economic  Co-operation and Development – helps fund our public services, cuts the deficit and reduces the pressure for deeper cuts or higher tax rises. This is the keystone of the case for migration. It rebuts Ukip’s central charge on the costs of migration. Without it, Labour cedes the argument to Ukip and critically undermines its own case for Europe.

Labour has just hired the Obama guru David Axelrod to advise the party on its campaign approach. One of his first tasks should be to make clear to Ed Miliband that Labour needs directly to confront Britain’s own Tea Party – Ukip – just as Obama has in the States. It is now impossible to win an argument for Britain in Europe without first demonstrating how we benefit from having Europeans in Britain.

As election day approaches, the tragedy for Labour is that the one British politician who seems to understand this is Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrat leader has been vilified and sneered at for taking on Farage in those debates, but at least he was prepared to make the case. The polls might have gone against Clegg, but what do progressives expect when no one else has had the courage to take on the Ukip leader. Battles don’t win themselves; they require politicians prepared to fight for what they believe in. I’ve spent much of my political life fighting Lib Dems. But, on this issue, I agree with Nick.

Barbara Roche is the chair of the Migration Matters Trust.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn