Ed Miliband on immigration: brave, mature or opportunist?
The Labour leader admits his party 'got it wrong' and pledges to take action
LABOUR leader Ed Miliband today admitted that his party "got it wrong" on immigration when they were in government and admitted that an influx of foreign workers had damaged Britain.
In a speech to the Institute of Public Policy Research he confessed that "by the end of our time in office, we were too dazzled by globalisation and too sanguine about its price" and said allowing uncontrolled immigration from the EU had helped create a labour market that was "nasty, brutish, and short term".
In his speech and in an interview with The Guardian he said it was wrong of the party to dismiss objections to immigration as prejudice and bigotry. And he pledged new measures such as forcing companies with a migrant workforce of 25 per cent or more to notify their local job centre.
Predictably there was a mixed reaction to his speech.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Melissa Kite accused Miliband of political opportunism. "The idea that Labour can be trusted on immigration when they opened the door in the first place is in itself highly questionable," she wrote.
Indeed the whole speech was "backward-looking and depressing" according to The Guardian's home affairs editor Alan Travis. He described it as "nasty politics because it gives substance to myths that legal Eastern European migration has taken jobs from our young unemployed and driven down wages".
But saying sorry for the failings of the past is a step in the right direction. "The depth of feeling against Labour on the issue is such that, even now, they are probably right to start with an apology," acknowledged Matt Cavanagh, also in The Guardian.
"Immigration is a crucial issue in Labour's rebuilding project," he said, and the speech "pointed the way to a more honest debate".
But why bring it up when the Coalition is teetering, asked some? "In wake of omnishambles, just when Cameron exposed as a hypocrite over tax avoidance, Miliband plays a race card. Moronic Labour strategists," commented blogger Tom Freeman on Twitter.
Actually, doing so was actually a political masterstroke claimed Daily Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges. He said the speech was not only "brave and mature" but "one of [Miliband's] most politically astute".
His handling of the immigration question has made Cameron's efforts to politicise Jimmy Carr's tax situation look foolish.
He added: "Immigration is a tough subject for Ed Miliband and his party. Yet over the past week he's demonstrated the confidence and sureness of touch to confront it. The Labour Left will be nervous. So will David Cameron."
The Labour leader has also taken the heat out of the debate by bringing in issues of economic inequality and morality. "Miliband can talk about people’s immigration concerns but also quickly widen-out the conversation, to take it into terrain where he can push home an advantage, using his egalitarian and communitarian convictions," noted Andrew Harrop on the New Statesman Staggers blog.