The aims of the Labour Party’s new immigration policy, to create a level playing field for EU and non-EU migrants whilst allowing workers with specific skill sets into the country, is both laudable and economically prudent. The problem, though, is that in their desperation to enact a fairer immigration policy without alienating any voters, the Labour Party seems to be falling prey to what David Lammy calls the “UKIP-isation of our politics”.
The most promising of Diane Abbott’s announcements on immigration is the pledge to end “bogus” immigration targets. This is hardly controversial. In fact, as recently as August, the Confederation of British Industry called for the UK government to do exactly that. Alongside the CBI, a number of Conservative politicians like Liam Fox and Sajid Javid have recognized the impossibility of the targets and registered this disapproval, either explicitly or implicitly.
Clearly, the direction of Labour’s new policies is sensible and popular. So, why are MPs like Lammy rushing to the airwaves to argue “we need these people to work in our care homes, to pick our fruit, to be our cleaners”? The Labour Party can, and must, make a case for immigration without reducing migrants to nothing more than members of some kind of perpetual proletariat, here only to do those jobs that British workers deem beneath them.
“If our elected representatives, particularly those styling themselves as champions of diversity and dignity in British society, fail to stand up to this degradation of discourse, who will?”
The kind of argument made by Lammy for the new immigration policy ignores some of its key elements too. The point is to ease the visa process for a “range of professions”, be it “doctors, scientists or care workers.” Not only is Lammy misrepresenting the change in policy and perpetuating the idea that immigration is predominately low skilled work, but he’s also doing it unnecessarily. The most recent British Attitudes Survey shows that only 17% of Brits think that immigration has a negative impact on the economy.
This is an example of a sin that many politicians with limited experience of the current working class commit. They wrap up a sensible policy in a thin veneer of the lowest common denominator – populism – because they fall into the trap of thinking such an approach is the only way for the general population to accept it. It’s the same affliction that drives journalists to proudly announce that Tommy Robinson is the voice of the working class because they too have succumbed to the stereotypes and signed up to the groupthink that the working class is racist.
Lammy talks passionately and powerfully about the ‘ukipisation’ of our politics, with good reason. The rise of UKIP has effectively dragged the window of acceptable political discussion to the right, particularly amongst Conservatives and the remnants of New Labour. The electoral collapse of UKIP in 2017 has given both major parties the idea that there are votes to collect, making things worse.
The way that we discuss immigration must never be a capitulation to dehumanizing right-wing attitudes. If our elected representatives, particularly those styling themselves as champions of diversity and dignity in British society, fail to stand up to this degradation of discourse, who will? As Lammy famously, and magnificently, declared in the Houses of Commons: “If you lay down with dogs, you will get fleas.” With this latest development, he seems to have done just that.
(Image Credited to Labour Party, Youtube)