Diane Abbott on warpath over Ed's immigration mea culpa
But can Miliband's measured tones win over those who think he's too soft on immigration?
ED MILIBAND is tiptoeing through a minefield today by using a Party Political Broadcast to admit that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown got it wrong over Labour's 'open door' policy towards EU migrants coming into Britain.
Already, Diane Abbot, the black Labour MP and party spokesman on public health, has exploded before he has started, with a warning against lurching to the right on immigration in the wake of the Eastleigh by-election. Abbott says in the New Statesman: "The worst lesson that any mainstream political party could learn, in the light of UKIP's surge, is the necessity to move right on immigration."
Her intervention is a timely reminder that Miliband will face severe criticism from within his party if he takes a step too far in promoting immigration limits.
In today's broadcast, Miliband admits that the Blair government - of which he was a member, of course - was wrong in 2004 to reject transitional controls on the new states coming into the EU from Eastern Europe. Labour predicted thousands would come to Britain. In fact, millions did.
Ed says: "One of the things we didn't get right was immigration and that's why I've got a new approach." He now says that "maximum" controls are needed before Bulgaria and Romania gain access to Britain's welfare benefits, national health and council housing.
But he doesn't say what those "maximum" controls should be.
Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, is due to make a speech on immigration tomorrow and might provide more clues. In the meantime, Miliband will argue that the focus should be on economic measures to protect British workers, including "properly enforcing the minimum wage so people aren't brought here to undercut workers already here". There should also be "proper training for people here so that they have a fighting chance of filling the vacancies that exist".
Miliband, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants, has pointed out in the past that immigrants don't cause low wages; unregulated labour markets and predatory employers do.
But will Labour's proposals stop Bulgarians or Romanians coming to Britain for free medical care?
Iain Duncan Smith, the Welfare Secretary, told the Commons yesterday that Britain is facing a welfare "crisis" as it awaits the next wave of Eastern Europeans.
Which is why the Tories are talking about introducing new rules on gaining access to the welfare state so that you can only have free health care on the NHS or welfare benefits if you have paid National Insurance Contributions for a time, and only get on a council waiting list if you have lived in the area for a while.
Miliband has been persuaded to get into the immigration debate by his senior adviser, Jon Cruddas, who saw core Labour voters in his own seat, Dagenham, deserting in droves because they felt they were being displaced in the queues for welfare by immigrants.
But Miliband refuses to back the Tories on a straightforward cap on immigration, and with Diane Abbott and others ready to explode if he strays too far, it is difficult to see what practical steps he will be able to support to put his fine words into action.
While he speaks in measured tones to those blue-collar members who think the party's too soft on immigration, the danger is that the voice they're hearing belongs to UKIP. ·