Theresa May was swept to the highest office unelected and without a manifesto. Now, it turns out the new Prime Minister is just borrowing UKIP’s instead.
The number of policies Mrs May is lifting out of the UKIP GE15 manifesto is astonishing. Almost like we are in power, but not in office!
— Patrick O'Flynn (@oflynnmep) October 4, 2016
May’s Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has just unveiled a number of policies that have come straight out of the UKIP manifesto. With the stated aim of curbing immigration, Rudd announced a crackdown on overseas students and foreign workers:
- Firms would be required to publish the proportion of international workers they employ to ensure “British jobs for British workers”.
- A two-tier visa system for foreign students would be brought in, based on the quality of the student’s university or other education programme.
In response, Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham said:
We’ve heard these conference promises on net migration and child migrants before and they haven’t come to anything – people will take them with a pinch of salt. On Theresa May’s watch, net migration reached record levels.
But it’s Burnham, and others in the Labour Party, that have actually contributed to such anti-immigrant sentiment.
The Labour right legitimises UKIP and Tory rhetoric
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn recently refused to “fan the flames” of anti-immigration rhetoric in his flagship conference speech, stating that there will be no immigration cap under a Labour government.
Meanwhile, the Labour right appears to be lighting bonfires. Rachel Reeves MP, who in 2013 said she’d be tougher than the Tories on benefits, has warned that the UK could “explode” into riots if immigration is not curbed following the Brexit vote. Maya Goodfellow, of Media Diversified, has a warning for Reeves and other members of the Labour right who are adopting such rhetoric:
…this kind of mealy-mouthed approach encouraged some to vote for parties that are aggressively anti-migration because they were seen as being able to deal with falsehoods Labour had legitimised.
In contrast to the leadership, Labour MPs have been peddling these “falsehoods” in the press. And this has vindicated the Conservative government and UKIP’s anti-immigration position, allowing both to pick up more votes.
Myth 1: immigration causes racism
Joining Reeves is Stephen Kinnock MP, who said:
Nobody is born racist, but immigration that reaches levels beyond a society’s capacity to cope can lead, in extremes, to racism.
Goodfellow says suggesting that high immigration causes racism is at odds with the facts:
But immigration alone does not create dislike of the ‘other’; if that were the case then why is it that people who have experienced the highest levels of migration are the least anxious about it?
Racism and xenophobia are products of historical and social factors. To think high levels of immigration produce these pernicious forms of discrimination ignores the history of empire that solidified socially constructed racial categories and established the idea that the ‘other’ was a threat to UK society, values and safety.
A report from The Guardian has shown that areas with the highest level of immigration overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU:
London, which absorbed 133,000 of the 330,000 net arrivals in 2015, voted the most strongly for remain. Manchester also voted for remain – and at 13,554 had nearly double the level of net migration seen in Birmingham, which voted leave.
For Goodfellow, Kinnock is simply legitimising these anti-immigrant UKIP policies that have now been adopted by the government.
Myth 2: immigration destroys public services
While bolstering UKIP rhetoric, Goodfellow argues, the MP for Aberavon also draws fire away from the Conservatives when he suggests that immigration is “beyond a society’s capacity”.
It is aggressive Tory austerity, not migration, that has caused the crisis in public services and it is an economic model that benefits the few – the same one that exploits poor migrants while scapegoating them – that is to blame for poverty and degradation.
The impact of cuts to public spending on the NHS, for example, can be seen in this chart:
Breathtaking. In took just two years for Jeremy Hunt to completely wreck our NHS. pic.twitter.com/icvK9ddj49
— Tory Fibs (@ToryFibs) March 6, 2016
As the graphic shows, almost all NHS providers have gone from a surplus to a deficit within just two years.
Moreover, Corbyn echoes Goodfellow when he challenges the narrative that migrants are the cause of crippling public services:
This isn’t the fault of migrants – it’s a failure of Government.
Myth 3: immigration puts a downward pressure on wages
Returning to Reeves’ immigration pitch, the MP calls for an end to EU freedom of movement because of alleged downward pressure on wages, saying:
The party has ignored the effects of immigration on wages for too long.
Unsuccessful leadership challenger Owen Smith made a similar claim during his campaign:
In some places the way in which we saw a rapid influx in particular of Eastern European migrants after ascension of those countries to Europe, definitely caused downward pressure on wages, definitely caused changes to local terms and conditions for some workers in some sectors.
But Goodfellow dismisses such arguments, insisting:
This is patently untrue. In fact evidence shows the opposite: because migrants consume goods and services they increase demand, creating opportunities for UK-born workers.
Research from the London School of Economics (LSE) found that the rapid increase in immigration has not had any adverse impact on UK workers’ wages.
In Burnham’s speech at the recent Labour Conference, he also spoke about immigration. Calling for tougher controls, the Labour candidate for Mayor of Manchester said:
I don’t want to hear this party make the patronising argument that people didn’t understand their Referendum vote. They understood it very well.
But at Media Diversified, Goodfellow anticipated such a response:
Pro-immigration arguments are dismissed as patronising, pie-in-the-sky politics. But it’s more condescending to assume you can’t reason with and be honest with people; that you have to accept the status quo. It will take a huge amount of work but current levels of migration are not changing any time soon. In a world where nearly half the population live on less than $2.50, people will continue to move in search of opportunities.
And that is the crux of the immigration debate – the elephant in the room: concentration of resources will lead to a concentration of people. Within the EU, Polish people can earn four times as much in the UK than in their own country.
In refusing to put a target on immigration levels, Corbyn says he will not make “false promises”. Indeed, the Conservatives have broken almost all of their immigration vows because immigration is both a fact of polarised global income disparity and necessary for the UK, where immigrants (overall) make a positive contribution to the economy.
Yet that hasn’t stopped the government recommitting to its proposal to bring net migration down to the tens of thousands, through policies like the crackdown on foreign workers and students.
Figures on the Labour right are vindicating these UKIP-inspired policies, distracting people from Tory austerity, and peddling myths by pandering to anti-immigrant sentiment. Instead, they should join Corbyn and Goodfellow in challenging this divisive and misleading narrative.
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