Bryant’s speech sets out Labour’s thinking ahead of Party Conference season
Chris Bryant’s speech last week infused some new policy direction into mainstream debate. It was a serious speech about migration that didn’t play directly into the prevailing media portrayal of migrants.
Impressions of the speech differ, however, political commentators like the Telegraph’s Dan Hodges allege that Ed Miliband wheeled out Bryant to play dog-whistle politics about immigrants taking jobs away from the million or so unemployed youngsters in the UK. The Independent’s Dominic Lawson accuses him of trying to outflank the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) on EU migration. The Daily Mail’s Peter Hitchens slammed the speech as a replay of ‘bigot-gate’ in 2010. MRN’s Ruth Grove-White said the speech widened the current immigration debate.
Setting the immediate ground rules that harpooned the ‘racists’ allowed him to outline Labours thinking on immigration. But the media seemed to have little interest in the detail of the policy apart from screaming headlines about apologising over past mistakes and his blunder over Tesco and Next. Surprisingly the anti-immigration lobby were given little airtime.
Bryant’s comments about the EU Freedom of Movement Directive were very interesting. It was not a pursuit to place the Labour party at the centre of the sometimes bewildering arguments on Europe but an attempt to further fuel the docudrama in the Conservative Party over the issue. He demanded that the Coalition government consider reforming the various routes of entry, in particular, family migration - the only route available to EU citizens (including British citizens exercising their treaty rights) who can’t meet the UK’s own family migration income requirement.
By attempting to stab at reforms to freedom of movement, the Labour Party wants to reignite the perennial dog-fight between the Tories and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), especially now that pollsters are riverdancing about a resurgent Conservative Party neutralising the UKIP appeal. The Labour Party is engaged in cynical puppet mastery, whether they succeed in getting UKIP and the Tories at loggerheads over Europe again is dependant on pursuing the areas they believe the government is currently failing on when (or if) the Immigration Bill is read this parliament.
The One Nation Labour vision of immigration was set out as follows:
- Double the fines for minimum wage breaches and for illegal employment of illegal migrants; And give local authorities power to enforce the minimum wage.
- Introduce mandatory registration of commercial landlords.
- Introduce real-time online notification of all notices of marriage where one or other person is under an immigration control.
- Extend the notice period [for marriage] to either 20 or 25 days and if the Home Office detects any anomalies the period can be extended to 60 or 90 days, during which the Home Office can do full and proper investigations. If the marriage does prove to be sham the person under the immigration control would be removed.
- Tackle illegal entry, to end exploitation, to encourage integration, to strengthen the economy and to protect the taxpayer.
These policies attempt to increase the administrative monitoring of immigration. Apart from bland proposals such as ‘tackle illegal entry’, the rest aim to manage and control the numbers entering and leaving. The coming months will give the Labour Party the opportunity to expand on these areas. Clear pressures of trying to find a balance between a hostile political environment, existing unfair policies, and polling that suggest Labour is not seen as the party that can deliver tough immigration policies will be points strongly under consideration.
This is one of the starting points for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration fringe meeting at this year’s Labour Party conference. The event will take place in Brighton on 23 September with presentations from Chris Bryant MP, Yasmin Qureshi MP, John Mann MP, Alan Travis (The Guardian) and others.
The fringe meeting will be held outside of the secure zone and participants do not need a pass or accreditation to attend. You can find out more and sign up here.