Ed Miliband’s speech set out a new direction for policy on immigration


4:09 pm - June 23rd 2012

by Owen Tudor    


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Ed Miliband’s speech about immigration on Friday was much trailed and much commented on, but I suspect it was little read.

So I’ll try to concentrate on what he actually said rather than what everyone thinks he meant by it. It’s one of the hazards of immigration policy: all too often, people search for hidden meanings rather than concentrate on the actual proposals being made.

One of the other odd features of immigration policy is that a lot of the time what affects actual immigration and actual immigrants isn’t immigration policy at all.

Miliband’s speech was mostly – and he was explicit about this – about labour market policy, and the implications that would have for immigration.

So, on the substance, the speech marks an acceptance of a key union demand: stronger regulation of the labour market, especially to protect the vulnerable and the low paid. There is still more to say (again, as he was at pains to stress) over issues like housing policy, but on the labour market, this speech was a positive move.

The TUC has long held the view that our main approach to immigration should focus on working people. We believe that preventing exploitation of migrant workers and undercutting of the existing workforce is the best way to prevent one section of workers being pitted against another – as happened at the Lindsey oil refinery.

What Ed said about the regulation of the labour market was this:

“To have an effective immigration policy, we must also reform how our economy works so that it works for all working people in Britain, whoever they are and wherever they come from. That means tougher labour standards to do more to protect working people from their wages and conditions being undermined.”

That, together with his admission that Labour had been “too dazzled by globalisation”, seems to me to be a key policy development for Labour, and one that trade unions should welcome.

Of course, there is much more work to be done to flesh out the policies needed to turn it into practice, and we would have wanted to see more about a Living Wage. But the suggestion that fines for breaching the minimum wage should at least double is welcome, as is the probably more important suggestion that local authorities as well as HMRC should be given enforcement powers.

One issue which led to questions at the end of his speech, and much comment online, was the impact on wages he ascribed to migration.

What he actually said was that “the combination of immigration and an under-regulated labour market held wages down in hospitality, food processing and social care,” ie at the lower end of the labour market. What several people thought he said was that immigration cost jobs and held down wages overall. Much energy was therefore devoted in the blogosphere to proving that wages had not been reduced and the ‘lump of labour fallacy’ was also deployed.

Actually it’s a bit difficult to determine what overall wage levels would have been if there hadn’t been mass migration since 2000, and it is certainly true that, at least for the first half of the decade, real wages in the UK rose. However, the fact that we had a booming economy and a relatively tight domestic labour market might have led to higher rates of wage growth without mass migration loosening that labour market (as the Bank of England said at the time.)

The point Ed was making, though, was that wages at the bottom end of the labour market, while underpinned by the national minimum wage which prevented the much worse undercutting that happened in Germany, were held down by competition for low paid, low skilled jobs, and that certainly does seem to have been the pattern in at least the second half of the decade.

As to other policies, we would certainly welcome a commitment to building more social housing, and improving public services, so that there is less concern about the rationing that seems to have produced most concern in certain areas of the country. We would like to see much more about education and training policies designed to prevent the skill shortages to which migration is often the solution (with potentially harmful impacts on sending nations as well as receivers.) And we have long argued that better policies for integration such as greater access to English as a second language training would be valuable.

We welcome Miliband’s scepticism about the coalition’s artificial caps on immigration numbers, but we would also be wary of some of his own prescriptions, for example about using transitional measures to deal with the possible accession of new members of the EU (not least because they force migrant workers into bogus self-employment without necessarily reducing overall numbers).

But overall, the speech sets out a new direction for policy on immigration, rooted in real experiences rather than rash generalisations or pandering to prejudice.

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About the author
Owen Tudor is an occasional contributor to LC. He is head of the TUC’s European Union and International Relations Department and blogs more regularly at the Touchstone blog.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Immigration ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Meanwhile the politicians can save money by only printing election leaflets in Urdu and Polish.

Good speech, Owen. Slightly irate, though.

The point is, your tone is positive, whereas Ed’s tone was negative. You’re celebrating migration, rightly, because it’s what makes society and life good. Ed wasn’t. Your facts are the same. Your speeches are very different. The impression you give is more accurate.

Hell, even sane people fall for the Tory lie that migrants steal jobs. We need more polis out there giving speeches like this.

Politicians of all Parties have lost any credibility with the public.
For too long they have relied on the ability to spin the public into believing whatever they wanted.
It has come back to bite them hard.
Whatever is now the truth about anything is irrelevant, it is the public perception that matters.
Terrorism
WMD
Inflation
Education
Unemployment
Immigration
Crime
The EU
The Banks/City
Corruption of politicians/police/media/etc.

We have been continually misled about all of the above
No amount of speechmaking by anyone (most of all the successor to Blair/Brown) will be believed.
People will accept the evidence of their own eyes, family and friends’ experiences, some – the lies told in the media but very few will listen to a politician.

“You’re celebrating migration, rightly, because it’s what makes society and life good.”

What a bizarrely narrow evaluation of ‘what makes society and life good’. I’m guessing you’re an above average earner, who has himself been an economic migrant, and who has no personal understanding of – or, more likely, any capacity to care about with – any negative impacts migration could possibly have for anyone else.

Indeed, you’ve simply ignored, in your blind conviction, what Miliband said:

“The point Ed was making, though, was that wages at the bottom end of the labour market, while underpinned by the national minimum wage which prevented the much worse undercutting that happened in Germany, were held down by competition for low paid, low skilled jobs, and that certainly does seem to have been the pattern in at least the second half of the decade.”

Again I’m guessing that that simply didn’t affect you, as an above average earner, and you don’t particularly give a damn about those it did affect. Tell yourself that they are just liars, or lazy, or racists. Just don’t, whatever you do, entertain the possibility that economic factors or conditions that work well for you personally might not work so well for others.

@Lamia research has shown that immigration has FAR less effect on wages than a deregulated labour market and emasculated Trade Unions. It does have an effect, I agree, and not only in lower wage areas (IT has been especially effected in the last decade or so), but not as large as you think. If your wages are stagnant or going down, its more because the employer has the whip hand…whilst the right use issues like this to keep workers at each other’s throats, only the employer will win!

“a new direction for policy on immigration”

This isn’t a new direction. This is the same racism we had from the last labour government.

Labour need to understand that thick racists do not represent the British working class. Milliband’s speech just showed how little he understands the great mass of British people and what contempt he has for us. We are not stupid bigoted racists.

@ Pat,

“but not as large as you think.”

With respect, you don’t know how large I think it is. You seem to have made the assumption that I think low wages and unemployment are mainly caused by immigration. I don’t. I think it’s a factor, and not the main one in the economy as a whole. But there are instances and places where it does have a significant affect. What makes it difficult to have a constructive debate on this is the sort of blind, bullying evangelism of John Band and others that migration is an unfailing and universal good and that any demurring voices must be those of bigots.

“If your wages are stagnant or going down, its more because the employer has the whip hand…”

At the moment it is mainly because we are in recession. My own employers pay their workers first, haven’t been paid for months and are now unable to pay their own mortgage. ‘Bosses’ are not some army of clones all rolling in money. Small businesses are struggling. And no, our particular business is not struggling because of migrants, but because of the general depression of the economy. No simple answers, no simple causes.

“…whilst the right use issues like this to keep workers at each other’s throats, only the employer will win!”

Again, with respect, whilst you defensively read posts like mine, which were not by any means scapegoating economic migrants, as being an echo chamber for ‘the right’, and seeming to assume that I and others can’t see that there is a complexity of factors at work, it’s difficult to have a discussion. I neither believe the posionous idea that migrants are the cause of all our economic woes, nor the ludicrous one that they are the main key to improving ‘society and life’. There is a very large spectrum of possibilities in between.

@Lamia I apologise because I thought you were a “immigration is the problem, full stop” person. I think we agree on more than we disagree…

It’s a bit hard to argue with Chris and John B, as I think they are letting ideology get the better of them.
John B you say that immigration is ”what makes society and life good”’.
Why’s that necessarily? Surely it depends on what kinds of immigrants they are.
Poor ones take a long time to find their feet often and end up living in poverty.
If they come from less developed societies the delay in integration can be generational. And with some communities, some unfortunate customs like cousin marriage, or dressing young girls in ”training hijabs” gets passed on through the generations of people even born in the UK.

A certain degree of ghettoisation can also develop in neighbourhoods and whole quarters of cities. Slum landlordism and worker exploitation of newer immigrants is rife. You only have to see the people who’s job it is to hand out free newspapers at tube stations to see some of that.
How can anyone argue that an expansion of ghettoisation is a positive thing?

A good example of modern landlord practices was shown in a documentary about Caledonian Road near Kings Cross station in London the other night.
It showed how one landlord bought up dozens of properties in the area in the 1980s, and kitted them out for high occupancy living. With adults sharing rooms and bathrooms. His tennants were the workers he said. The people who worked in the shops, resturants and hotels. And three or four guys sharing a room was the way he maximised his income from the properties.

See here from 45 minutes in.

John B: You’re celebrating migration, rightly, because it’s what makes society and life good. Ed wasn’t.

Bizarre to assume everyone thinks immigration is good, when a significant proportion of the population. Now, you might say to those people they’re stupid, but that would be bad thing for a politician to do.

You may even convince yourself that telling those people they’re wrong and they don’t have the facts will work. But you’d just be deluding yourself.

Lastly, Ed did celebrate immigration in his speech. To claim otherwise is just idiotic.

Net immigration is presently running at an annual rate of c. 250,000, which is equivalent to a city of the size of Birmingham every four years.

“The number of low-skilled workers born outside the UK more than doubled between 2002 and 2011, according to the Office for National Statistics. The figures show that almost 20% of low-skilled jobs are held by workers born abroad, up from 9% in 2002. ” [BBC website 26 May 2011]

Try the memorandum submitted by Professor Rowthorn to the HoL Select Committee on Economic Affairs for the Committee’s report on The Economic Impact of Immigation:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldselect/ldeconaf/82/7100902.htm

Rowthorn, now emeritus professor of economics at Cambridge, is not widely regarded as “right wing”.

@Bob B – where do you get your figures from? If we had a net immigration of 250k a year, we might have problems (and the government would have major problems reducing it to 10k). But since the real figure is nothing near that, we don’t. This is exactly what is wrong with the debate on immigration – people coming out with silly figures…

Oh, and by the way, since the population of Brum is 2 million, it would take 8 years.

@Bob B I apologise – you were right about the net immigration, but most of it was from the EU. That isn’t why we are underpaid – its the bosses playing us against each other.

Pat,

“Final figures for 2010 show that annual net migration to the UK was 252,000, the highest calendar year figure on record.”

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/migration1/migration-statistics-quarterly-report/november-2011/msqr.html

Um, yeah I just admitted I was wrong. So?

Pat,

The site often takes time to display comments. I hadn’t seen yours when I posted the figures from ONS.

But since you asked, in your comment, you wrote,

“If we had a net immigration of 250k a year, we might have problems”.

We do have net immigration of 250k a year, so do we have problems?

I think Owen Tudor has written a good article here–certainly more measured than the rather hysterical denunciations currently doing the rounds in the media and blogosphere.

I don’t have anything to add to Owen’s reading of Miliband’s speech, but want to make a more general observation about the debate.

In the past, the arguments in favour of immigration were made in terms of the self-interest of the population. Immigration, we were told, produces some kind of economic effect that makes us all better-off. In general, there isn’t anything else to consider other than economic self-interest, and so it was felt that nothing else needed to be said. I mean, what else is there, right?

The problem with that is that it’s not so obvious why the mere fact of immigration should have this particular property in principle, and, perhaps unsurprisingly given that fact, not so easy to find evidence of it in practice.

So now, rather than argue that immigration makes us better-off, proponents of immigration argue that the evidence doesn’t seem to contradict the idea that immigration hasn’t made us worse-off. There’s no longer an appeal to self-interest here, though. Instead, we’ve got to simply assume that immigration is something which is good in and of itself, because it’s immigration. If the overall economic cost is not negative, then there’s no reason to complain. If there’s no reason, to complain—well, then there’s… You get the picture.

Vimothy,

Ok, you’ve got me – I actually think immigration adds to the diversity of this nation, which is what makes it (the country) great. However, unlike many of my left-wing friends, I think Ed has a point: uncontrolled immigration has consequences for workers in this country. Since the only uncontrolled immigration we have is from the EU, that presents a problem. You cannot have a single market without free movement of people (even Maggie understood that): if you have a single market without free movement, it will be exploited by companies (look at what has happened in North America/Mexico since the NAFTA was established – companies have relocated to Mexico for cheap labour). Its a bit of a conunudrum…

I see Mr Osler and Socialist Unity are getting in a twist – they never learn, do they?

This is just a wee signal to the man getting his face punched on the top deck of the Clapham omnibus – “see – we really care about you”.

Like Blair’s 200-odd “crackdowns” on this and that, it’s a soundbite “for amusement only”.

22. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

That, together with his admission that Labour had been “too dazzled by globalisation”, seems to me to be a key policy development for Labour, and one that trade unions should welcome.

That is disgusting, one of the most racist things I’ve read on here and I’ve read damon’s posts.

Globalisation was our idea, it wasn’t the idea of anyone working in an Indonesian EPZ, it was our idea. People worked in abhorrent conditions for a pittance so we could gorge ourselves on cheap shit (and watch our pensions grow on the back of these new ‘found’ profits) which was heralded as a ‘miracle of the market’. Now it turns out that those people are just as good at packing vegetables and using a hoover as white people and I’m supposed to be happy your pulling up the drawbridge?

Get fucked.

We wrote the rules to the game, still lost and all we can come up with is – “unlucky Sambo, white man wins again.”

You and Miliband should be ashamed of yourselves, vile, utterly vile.

Pat @ 14: I see you’ve doubled the population of the city of Birmingham, in which I live.

I see you’ve doubled the population of the city of Birmingham

The randy bugger…

I have no idea what Disgusted Of TO is talking about. I think he/she’s leting their idology get in the way of normal debate too.
No one’s saying there’s anything wrong with immigration – my own parents were immigrants to the UK. But rates and levels and types of immigrants surely have to be looked at and taken into consideration.

Is it OK or desirable if all our towns were to develop areas of multiple deprivation, like some of the ”immigration first ports of call” have become?
Like in that film of the landlord in Caledonian Road I did a link to above, where the flats above shops like on London Road become home to poorer people willing to share accomodation with strangers.
I was in one just yesterday afternoon. West Croydon, along London Road, which was at the centre of last summer’s rioting there. It’s become a transient bedsit land, which is OK. But it’s also quite poor and scruffy. Anyone with any get up and go would move out, which leaves poorer people there and houses of multiple occupation for people who have to go for the cheapest rents. A look inside the saturday afternoon pubs shows what’s been left behind.
Tired and washed up working class whites and some blacks drinking cheap beer in Wetherspoons pub. While outside, nearly all the shops are run and staffed by people who grew up in Asia …. and who seem to never go into pubs like that. So there’s a certain polarisation. It’s certainly multi-culturalism, but at it’s most basic and poorest end.
People seem to mix only as much as they have to in order to go about their lives.
That means Afghan asylum seekers living next door to Nigerians, next to Polish, next to Black English, next to poor white working class.
I quite like it, but not necessairly to live there. It has a depressed feeling about it I find.

I would be interested to hear people explaining why I’ve got it wrong about such areas, and that they are actually the best kinds of places to live. (ie, above a kebab shop on Seven Sisters Road …. or along Handsworth Road in Birmingham).

I think Milliband has sort of got it somewhere between a third and half right and has attempted to make a fist of rectifying a political error (real or perceived) in the eyes of the electorate. A blind man reading Braille with a hook can see that there is much concern with regard to immigration from certain parts of the globe. Moreover, it is Labour that are getting it in the neck. There are about quarter of a million Americans and roughly the same number of French living in ‘Britain’ (to be fair the vast majority living in London and the South East) without too much complaint from the Daily Hate. In fact, for all the complaints about ‘British Culture’ being subsumed by foreigners and their alien ways rather neatly forgets that American culture has pretty much became the default culture here.

Where Miliband has got his half hearted apology wrong was to word it is such a way as to allow some to paint this as some kind of attack on the concepts of immigration or attacks on immigrates themselves. What Labour SHOULD be apologising for was being bounced into mass immigration from Eastern European Countries through the demands of big business. This ‘dazzled by Globalisation’ stuff does not nearly cover what has happened. Mass immigration has been driven by the desire of many large scale employers (including Government) for a seemingly endless stream of cheap, reliable labour.

Labour has to realise that incoming labour is going to be seen as a threat to those already here*. It is no use producing reports that show that no such infringements actually take place. When a local whisky bottling plant made fifteen people redundant and replaced them with twenty Polish agency staff the same week, you can stuff all your evidence up your arse, because you have lost the argument. Speaking as a Scot, I live in a Country whose culture appears at times to be entirely predicated around the resentment of imported labour over a Century and a half ago, I think we need to ensure that these ‘concerns’ and prevent them becoming outright resentment.

Nothing is calculated to engineer outrage among people than forcing unemployed children onto work placement schemes where they work for free while their Polish co-workers are seen earning a reasonable wage.

Labour and Milliband need to be seen defending workers rights, defending the integrity of the minimum wage and campaign for better rights for agency staff. They need to tackle the outrage of the zero hour contract, where people wait, often in vain, for a phone call to attend work.

All too often, New Labour would announce some kind of protection, only for the fine print to reveal catches like ‘best practice’ and ‘voluntary agreements’. So you get things like minimum wage being ignored in some cases and those with least having no recourse to the law or tribunals.

A prime example of this smokescreen approach has been Milliband’s call for firms to declare the number of non British workers they employ? What is that supposed to achieve exactly? You are either in favour of stopping immigrants working or you don’t. Simply announcing a figure is no use, one way or another.

*BTW, please do not get into a cock waving exercise regarding white male working class chavs, because women, black and Asian youth will find themselves shunted out the labour market too.

@ Pat,

Thanks. It’s good to be able to talk calmly and constructively about this.

“Globalisation was our idea, it wasn’t the idea of anyone working in an Indonesian EPZ, it was our idea.”

@ Disgusted…

It wasn’t my idea or the idea of most people in Britain. And regardless of that, Ed Miliband wasn’t scapegoating or demonising immigrants.

I think most of those on this thread, even if they disagree with each other, are trying to discuss this topic in good faith. Illogical kneejerk rants, from either side, are just a bullying tactic or a distraction, and of no real value to anyone.

“Where Miliband has got his half hearted apology wrong was to word it is such a way as to allow some to paint this as some kind of attack on the concepts of immigration or attacks on immigrates themselves.”

I don’t think believe did. Or rather, when anyone entertains the possibility that not all aspects of immigration may work well for all people as others, there are:

a) some who will triumphantly jump on that as evidence that immigration is intrinsically ‘a bad thing’, and the main source of our ills for our great country.

b) some who will furiously jump on that as evidence that immigrants are being ‘demonised’ when they are in fact the most wonderful thing about our shitty country.

They are both nonsense, of course, and tiresome nonsense, but these opposing lunatics tend to shout very loudly, for either reason. Cannon to the left of them, cannon to the right of them…

So both reactions were inevitable, but that doesn’t mean Miliband shouldn’t try and talk intelligently about what is a real issue among the public. I think he has made a good effort here. I don’t think he was trying to give ammo to either group of hysterical phobes or philes, and quite rightly so.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Charlie Kiss

    Ed Miliband's speech set out a new direction for policy on immigration http://t.co/DZyXIehl (via @libcon) < yep, towards the Tory one..

  2. Jaikiranmaram

    The TUC is broadly pleased by Ed Miliband's speech on immigration. Here's why http://t.co/d7PJc8gk

  3. Carl Roper

    Excellent analysis on Ed's immigration speech by my TUC colleague Owen Tudor http://t.co/3xliqRU8

  4. Gus Baker

    Excellent analysis on Ed's immigration speech by my TUC colleague Owen Tudor http://t.co/3xliqRU8

  5. keith flett

    Excellent analysis on Ed's immigration speech by my TUC colleague Owen Tudor http://t.co/3xliqRU8

  6. Liza Harding

    Excellent analysis on Ed's immigration speech by my TUC colleague Owen Tudor http://t.co/3xliqRU8

  7. Magapanthus Smith

    Excellent analysis on Ed's immigration speech by my TUC colleague Owen Tudor http://t.co/3xliqRU8

  8. Roger Bliss

    Good Sense and Sensibility. Please Read http://t.co/FnpTKgKf via @libcon

  9. Roger Bliss

    Excellent analysis on Ed's immigration speech by my TUC colleague Owen Tudor http://t.co/3xliqRU8

  10. McGinOxford

    The TUC is broadly pleased by Ed Miliband's speech on immigration. Here's why http://t.co/d7PJc8gk

  11. Alex Braithwaite

    Ed Miliband’s speech set out a new direction for policy on immigration | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/vwLsrSxl via @libcon#wellwortharead

  12. Alex Braithwaite

    Ed Miliband’s speech set out a new direction for policy on immigration | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/vwLsrSxl via @libcon

  13. Miliband could be social democratic on migration | Shifting Grounds

    […] says the Miliband speech on migration targeted employers and workers’ rights not immigrants. Owen Tudor has asked us to recognise the labour aspects of what he said. It’s fair to point out that Miliband talked […]

  14. Media Activist Jay Baker's blog » Blog Archive » What Ed Said Vol. 7

    […] On immigration, Miliband said: “To have an effective immigration policy, we must also reform how our economy works so that it works for all working people in Britain, whoever they are and wherever they come from. That means tougher labour standards to do more to protect working people from their wages and conditions being undermined.” Having successfully avoided talk of big brother border controls thrown around constantly under New Labour, Ed was praised by many who actually heard the speech or read its transcript for shifting it to real working issues around the labour market and wages, calling for fines to be “at least doubled” on those who breach the minimum wage. (Liberal Conspiracy) […]





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