My head is exploding with all the rubbish rhetoric about immigration since the election finished, let alone while it was in full flow. So much to write, so little time.
There’s a few points I need to make.
First, it’s possible to show via the polls that while people cited immigration as a concern – it still did not lose Labour the election. There were other factors that influenced votes much more. Especialy Gordon Brown’s unpopularity and the state of the economy.
Secondly, it’s more obvious to point out that increased immigration does not lead to more support for the fascists: the BNP were trounced in this election thanks to a lot of local campaigning and organising and bringing people together (see Hope Not Hate). Right-wingers keep saying this, and blaming the left for the rise of the BNP. Now who will they applaud for the collapse of the BNP?
Thirdly, the eagerness with which Labour leader contenders Andy Burnham, Ed Balls and David Miliband have made immigration their top concern shows how bereft they are of ideas. According to them, New Labour did nothing wrong in power, except it wasn’t hard enough on immigrants. Tell that to the children who were locked up in detention without charge. And they say they’re standing up for ‘fairness’. New Labour got nothing wrong other than immigration huh? Too bad the polls don’t support that view.
It boggles the mind that people like Andy Burnham can blow racist dog-whistles and then claim to be left-wing or standing up ‘against unfairness’.
Fourth, it’s worth stressing that what we need to talk about isn’t immigration in itself, but it’s impact: why aren’t there enough houses, investment in public services, job protection for low-income people? Labour leaders want to talk about immigration, but not its impact. They’ll talk about immigration but won’t admit they didn’t build enough houses or let down people in low-paid jobs.
Fifth, here is the dilemma for the left. The public are not easily persuaded by facts. There’s no way of ‘educating them’. The right-wing media exists and it won’t stop printing false stories. And there are lots of traditional Labour supporters who have concerns about immigration (Labour was about 30 points behind in the polls on the issue).
And there is little evidence that those concerns translated into lost votes. Labour had lost millions of voters even before this election, mainly because of Iraq. Nevertheless, Labour was about 30 points behind. So what would a progressive narrative on immigration look like? How do you deal with people’s concerns without sounding like the English Defence League, the BNP or Andy Burnham? How does that narrative offer solutions and hope without encouraging people to be bigots or making them fearful of immigrants?
What’s the narrative? What do you say on the door-step? Thoughts?
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Filed in: Race politics