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Labour MPs and advisers: We failed on immigration

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-11-24 at 08.16.18 The IPPR seems to have waited until Theresa May's immigration announcement was out of the way before launching a series of essays by senior Labour figures on the last government's record on the matter.

The Guardian published a story yesterday evening based on the essays, and the key quotes are an indictment of both Blair and Brown's record.

Phil Woolas claims that even at party gatherings Labour was scared to talk about one of the biggest concerns among voters, and that by 2010 the party had no credibility left on the issue -

"We had imposed a gag on ourselves...the public thought we were shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted and even worse that we were doing it for electoral gain".

Ed Owen, policy adviser to Jack Straw, Blair's first Home Secretary, admits that -

"...there was no deliberate and substantive work on immigration issues undertaken in opposition – no attempt to develop a coherent strategic position that might serve as a basis for a programme for government. The consequences of this lack of deliberate policy thinking was disastrous as we lurched from one crisis to another."

Matt Cavanagh, a policy adviser in Downing Street on home affairs issues, argues that -

"both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and the great majority of their ministers shared a conviction that immigration for work and study was good for Britain and the British economy...we needed to change our approach and accept that immigration itself was a major issue for voters".

John Denham, the former DCLG Secretary and Home Office Minister, complains that Whitehall never owned the immigration issue, and that  Labour confused a tough line on immigration with racism partly due to the exploitation of the issue by the BNP.

According to the Guardian, "the essays, brought together by the IPPR thinktank, also point out that Labour first devised the idea of a points-based system for economic migrants in 2000, but took until 2008 to bring it into being".
By the way, Labour's future on immigration won't improve on its past if Ed Balls can't get his figures right.  He said yesterday that "the problem is that 80 per cent of our migration comes from the EU states, they're not affected at all by the cap which was announced today by Theresa May".
But of the 528,000 migrants who entered last year 292,000 were non-European - that is, 55 per cent of the total.  Furthermore, last year inflows and outflows of British and European citizens largely cancelled each other out, and non-European net migration counted for more than 93 per cent of the net migration total.