Right direction, wrong messaging on immigration from Labour

Despite the headline-grabbing row with Tesco and Next, shadow Immigration Minister Chris Bryant made a good speech on immigration today - the trouble is, could anyone hear what he was saying?
Today's immigration speech by shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant was billed as an opportunity to hear Labour's latest views on immigration policy, in particular on economic migration. But although the media row over the speech today has made it difficult to hear what Labour is trying to say, Bryant's speech did lay out some new thinking which should be welcomed.
Chris Bryant delivering a speech on immigration - August 2013
You can see why Chris Bryant decided to give an immigration speech now. The quiet summer season should have allowed the opposition to clearly lay out some fresh thinking on immigration. The speech follows a couple of weeks in which the government has been heavily criticised over the 'racist vans' row and received widespread accusations of racial profiling in immigration enforcement actions. And research published by Operation Black Vote yesterday has emphasised the importance of ethnic minority voters at the next election, offering up another opportunity to Labour to make a pitch to these voters on issues like race and immigration. So far, so good - the stage was set.
However, a bungled advance briefing of Bryant's immigration speech to the media yesterday led to the speech being all but derailed before it had even been delivered. Media coverage today has focused on Bryant's apparent accusation that retailers Tesco and Next were 'unscrupulous employers' in their recruitment practices around migrant workers. Rather than staking out the terms of the debate as he had hoped, Chris Bryant has been on the back-foot all day.
It was a shame, because there was more to Bryant's speech than the Tesco/Next row. This speech was particularly interesting from an opposition which has been reluctant to be drawn off relatively safe terrain on immigration. Bryant laid out a broad critique of the coalition government's current approach, putting the boot into the net migration target and pointing to the damage to the higher education sector as a result of restrictions on international students. He criticised 'cheap and nasty gimmicks' like the 'go-home vans' , and the coalition's proposed £3000 bond for short-term visitors, as well as Theresa May's bureaucratic headaches over various Home Office backlogs.
Even the aspect of Bryant's speech which has been the focus of press coverage today - issues faced by low-paid migrant workers at the hands of 'unscrupulous employers' - should be viewed as a welcome attempt to cast the spotlight on an area that the coalition government has singularly failed to address. The speech has generated some debate today about recruitment and employment conditions for migrant workers in low paid sectors such as care, cleaning, hospitality and construction - this is all helpful. And although Bryant has back-pedalled on his 'naming and shaming' of Tesco and Next, the baton was taken up today by a Tesco worker who has given his own critique of some employment practices there, ensuring that this story will continue to develop.
Chris Bryant will no doubt be glad when today is over. But although it has clearly not been a good day, the Labour frontbench should not be scared away from strengthening an alternative vision on immigration. 
As we move towards the pre-2015 electioneering in earnest, we need opposition parties that can stake out what is wrong with an overwhelmingly hostile debate on immigration and policies aimed at preventing people from coming at any cost, and which can put forward alternative proposals of their own. When the dust has settled from this latest media storm in a teacup, we hope that Bryant's speech will have moved us at least a little further in that direction.

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It was a poor, poor speech. The problem was that he pre-released his speech, with let's face it lots of factual errors. As a result he is being ridiculed & quite rightly so. The only lesson from this disaster is don't pre-release a speech with factual errors!

Not a 'poor,poor speech'! The media's Tesco/Next misreporting obliterated some really constructive comments: On the need to welcome foreign students for a range of important reasons; from reducing the national deficit to building future global relationships in trade, research and culture. And crucially, on better monitoring of incoming/outgoing migration (eg. competently log migrant departures...) It also criticised the exploitation of EU workers from lower waged countries into abusive practices such as zero-hours contracts and awful accomodation fees. Nor he didn't whitewash the previous Labour mistakes....such as the failure to set transitional quotas for new EEA countries.....Finally, it tackled the scapegoating practices of the 'Go Home vans' and the highly public police/immigration raids at rail stations, bus stops and businesses. He has my (a-party-political!) support for that!
A useful and constructive contribution to a decent, depoliticising immigration debate long overdue. It calls spades spades.......Now, next time, could IPPR/ Bryant tackle the inhumane practice of indefinite immigration detention and its' faux-justifications?

I also disagree. I read the whole speech and I would say that there was nothing new to it at all, so it can hardly be seen as an 'alternative' (ie better) view on immigration. The immigrants-are-to-blame rhetoric was present throughout the speech. In particular, the speech attacks the EU freedom of movement and shares, i would argue, the same current populist bashing of 'East European' or 'Polish' migrants. It's rather disappointing/worrying that as an organisation aiming to protect migrants' rights you seem to think that this was a 'good speech' on immigration.

Agree with Puck. The speech did set out a good starting point for Labour to build their policy proposals ahead of 2015.

Shame that the Tesco/Next controversy ruined the possibility of a "sensible debate" which could have followed if his office would have handled media differently. Then we could have moved away from the numbers debate at least for once.

I agree with an anonymous who wrote ' ...It's rather disappointing/worrying that as an organisation aiming to protect migrants' rights you seem to think that this was a 'good speech' on immigration'.

In this pace Labour will soon join UKIP with their stance towards migration per se.

FT has much more down to earth view on this subject so I suggest to read comments on

@Joop You will see that the FT article was written before the speech was delivered, therefore on back of the same press release and media trailing the blog here criticises.

@anonymous Could you post a section from the speech where you think it's obvious that he is scapegoating and migrant bashing? Would be interesting to know...

Conspicuous by its absence was a commitment to scrap the £18,600 income criterion, or at least to reduce it to a sensible figure.

Thanks for comments all.

Anonymous, anonymous and Joop, I agree that the pre-release of Bryant's speech was a disaster, but I do think that there were some sensible statements in there and that this was a welcome departure from the endless apologies for EU migration that we have become accustomed to from some Labour MPs. So let the debate continue!

Lonely husband, yes, the Labour position on the £18,600 income requirement was notable by its absence - this was disappointing but we should not give up, there are plenty of MPs from all parties on our side on this one...

Immigration is wonderful for the rich - cheaper staff, cheaper more attentive staff in restaurants and hotels, cheaper builders. Meanwhile they avoid the costs in education etc by sending their kids private. In fact the rich live in ghettos too. Many British citizens seem to have developed an irrational fear of immigration. Our society has always coped with a healthy influx of immigrants and they have by and large always integrated well. This integration has been eased by allowing them to keep their own cultural identity. Ethnic diversity and multiculturalism gives us a dynamic and forward looking society. The majority come here to work. They work hard and cheap. Locals are fat and happy on benefits. They don't want the work in the NHS, cleaning streets and houses etc.

It's not about integration, it's about separation and we know where that leads! Being frank, they do not want to live with us and we do not want to live close to them. It's more a cultural thing , not racist, we just live our daily lives, in different Worlds!

Not all locals want to mix with the immigrant community.

What do you mean by 'Integration'?

The issue of integration is complex and multidimensional. It will take time - indeed, we need to understand what we mean by it before we ask groups integrate.

In the end, immigration is a global phenomena; Britain cannot expect to function in the world without accepting it's role within that picture. It sends people to work in the world. The world in return expects to do the same. People leave Britain to find a new home; the world would expect the same opportunities. Whatever Britain expects, these things have to be reciprocated. IN the end, Britain opened it's with its Empire - so many other European countries did the same.

What we see in Western European society - their diversification - is inevitable, to some extent or other. The two things to do from here are, make sense of what the country needs and requires, and make sense of how to build a functioning society and with functioning, thriving localities.

People will always want to move away from crime ridden inner city areas if they possibly can afford it.

UK immigration is primarily poverty immigration so they will move into the cheapest areas because that's all they can afford.

These tend to be the old working class areas. Those who can afford to move out will do because the area no longer has the coherence that it once had as it becomes multicultural.

There is little in common with the immigrants who will speak a different language and have different religious beliefs eat different foods etc.

There is far more integration at the professional level. I suspect this is because they share many common values about schooling, way of life and civil values etc .

It is noticeable in parts of the Midlands that there are large numbers of successful Asians such as chemists doctors etc sharing the same upper market estates as successful whites. I doubt you could tell who lives in any particular house unless they answered the door as all have similar gardens with cut lawns etc. All lead a reserved quiet life bereft of noisy drunken parties and of youths hanging round on street corners with nothing to do.

I doubt many share their lifestyles as we are not dealing with the working class who live in each others pockets, but all act as good neighbours on behalf of others.

I don't really care one way or the other about how the briefing was mishandled, or the speech, what I want to know is what are Labour's immigration policies and what will they keep and what will they scrap, that Theresa May has brought in over the last three years?

I don't see the issue with foreign students. If they are genuinely here to study and not to work and it can be proved they leave at the end of their studies, I have no problem with them. If they are bogus, or they or the educational establishment break the rules they asked for and agreed too, then they should be blocked and the college or university banned from future applications.

As for the vans, if it saves the country money they should stay, if it doesn't they should try something else. Perhaps they could be reworded to project more of a public informational message. Ethnic minorities should be happy to make a contribution to the clearing of illegals from their country. I would have no objection to an immigration check, as long as that was all they were doing, its my civic duty and shows patriotism.

One thing I do object too is ignoring evidence of immigration abuse by a particular country because it might offend people. By all means have an independent unbiased monitor to make sure equal numbers of all races are stopped at these tube stations, if one group in one area produces more illegal immigrants, publish that information online and adjust the racial quota.

Transparency and historical data is important in making fair non discriminatory targeting. If countries citizens are violating our immigration rules more than others, they should expect to have to put down a deposit, if they cant be trusted. The solution is not to scream discrimination and racism, the solution is for their citizens to stop trying to break our rules and commit fraud. Then they wont be targeted with a £3000 bond.

Ruth Grove-White says:

August 12, 2013

"Lonely husband, yes, the Labour position on the £18,600 income requirement was notable by its absence - this was disappointing but we should not give up, there are plenty of MPs from all parties on our side on this one..."

Ruth, it would be easier to be more sympatric to your view if you also mentioned that a quarter of all foreign spouses are from one country out of about 183 I believe. When we see examples such as last nights channel 4 case, its always British citizens, who have travelled aboard and met the love of their life, a poor mother kept apart from her children etc. It's never about arranged first cousin marriage to someone they have only met once and that's only because the Home office insists on it. Marriages for cultural and economic reasons. Hardly keeping people in love apart.

I will make you a deal, if you support any of the following, I will change my mind and support the abolition of the £18,600 minimum earnings limit.

1. Legislation to ban chain migration. (both parents of the British sponsor must have been born here and be British citizens, for the British sponsor to qualify for a spouse visa).
2. Cap on number of spouse visas allowed for each country.
3. Balanced migration for spouse visas.

Can't say fairer than that.

Immigration law is really something that does not only concern immigrants but also the citizens living in a particular country. The question is, is there really an economic migration?
This is also a concern in Australia.
According to, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship or DIAC in Australia projects that 46,325 visas will be approved where partner visas are concerned while single stream employer-sponsored visas number to 47,250.