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UKIP and Immigration Policy

Nigel_Farage_of_UKIP.jpgAs many of you will have no doubt heard or read there are calls for our Party to get 'tough on immigration'. 

I've made my views quite clear on this; lurching to the right on immigration is a red line for me.

Anyone in our Party that believes pandering to the right is ever a solution is deluded. We can never out UKIP, UKIP. To start down that path is morally, politically and strategically, wrong.

Just look how that strategy has worked for Cameron on Europe.

The more he offers the Eurosceptics the more they demand. So emboldened now are they that they're destroying his party. As history has taught us so often, appeasement rarely ends well.

So how did we get here?

Well in 2004, the UK opened its doors to citizens from new EU member states, who settled mostly in fewer than two dozen cities, which were unprepared for the strain on housing, schooling and health provision.

At the time of the 1997 election, public surveys for MORI's IssuesIndex recorded those citing race or immigration as the most important issue at 3%. By 2009, that had risen to 38%. A year later, the British National Party had attracted half a million votes. 

Today the BNP is almost gone but in its place the party of 'fruit cakes and closet racists' are now the third biggest party in UK politics and on the brink of having two MPs.

So in this toxic atmosphere I've watched closely the Labour Party's response to UKIP and the threat it poses to our core, white working class vote.

And I've had to ask myself - with this increasing threat, has our position on immigration changed in the last six months? Personally I don't believe the overall substance and detail has. What has changed however, is the emphasis.

Six months ago the 'top lines' coming from the Party were more about the true economic causes underlying both the imagined and real tensions surrounding immigration: the lack of affordable housing, low pay, long waits for the doctor, job insecurity - factors we all know to be the true cause of much of any tension.

Now the 'top lines' are virtually the same but the emphasis is on the punitive: limiting benefits to migrants, controlling borders, ensuring public sector workers speak English.

When the emphasis was on the real causes of immigration tension, the overall affect was by and large a positive one. But now, by couching our response to UKIP in a negative framework, we nod towards the toxic assumption that immigrants are a problem. Clearly, how we frame this issue is profoundly important.

Now let me be clear - I don't believe it racist to discuss immigration and its economic, social and cultural impact. To ignore the impact of large movements of people - people who contribute to both our society and economy - is both foolish and negligent.

As someone who believes in the role of the state, (as opposed to the failure of 'free' markets) such attention and action is essential if we're to allocate the resources required to enable successful social and economic integration.

It is the laissez-faire approach to the economy these past 35 years that has been the overwhelming cause of  whatever tensions may exist ( by the way, if the Tories can argue for curbs on the free movement of labour then they don't have a leg to stand on when we call for curbs on the free movement of capital).

Yes, acknowledge lessons have been learnt from the mistakes New Labour made with transitional controls for new east European  accession countries. But do so in the context of a far more robust endorsement of immigration as part of a thriving and fair economy.

Immigration has filled vacant posts in the NHS and foreign students have contributed billions to the UK economy.

Immigrants pay taxes, provide skills we need, and inject dynamism and commitment into our economy.

Immigration has contributed hugely to our cultural life, to entrepreneurship and to innovation and we should be celebrating that. We should not be apologising for it and giving succour to UKIP.

We must talk up the benefits of immigration - because in the febrile atmosphere we risk loosing the gains of the past 50 years.

We're a country where diversity is the norm. The number of people uncomfortable with mixed-race relationships has dropped to 15%, a record low.

A recent study by the think-tank Policy Exchange said immigrants are not only more likely than ever to identify as British, they are more likely to be accepted as British by their white neighbours. 

But Immigration isn't just about economics and what financial  benefits immigrants bring. They're not just units of economic production - they're human beings.

Immigration then also has a moral dimension. We live in a globalised world rent apart by conflict and profound economic disparities.

Populations are on the move – from Libya and Syria in search of a better future. Investing in their economies to generate jobs and brokering peace, not war, is vital as is a fair and generous system of asylum.

I believe a growing hunger exists for a fairer, more inclusive society. But appalling economic circumstances have triggered a dark mood across Europe and the UK.

Two years ago, at the Olympics, Britain was viewed by the world as proudly diverse and united. We must find that spirit again. Because if we do not, there is a danger that optimistic vision will be fractured beyond repair.

So is it any wonder that in the Labour Party talk of 'toughening up' on immigration is met with derision by so many? We want our Party to take on the Tories and UKIP with a bold manifesto. One with a vision for real, lasting fundamental social and economic change, that puts our economy back into democratic ownership. Not a tarted-up, rerun of the 2010 manifesto.

We want a mass programme of council house building and we want John Cruddas' Policy Review dusted off and put front and centre of the 2015 manifesto.

Not more triangulated compromises with a Thatcherite 'casino economy' that destroys our planet and funnels wealth to super elites and global corporations.

We want an economy that works for the many and not just the few. (Here in Norwich the average family isn't just £1,600 worse off, they're £2,500 worse off.) One that puts environmental sustainability as well as social and economic justice front and centre of all we do.

Give us something to go out and fight for on the doorstep  and win back a demoralised British public. Because we all know that's what ultimately will stop UKIP dead in its tracks and win us the next general election.

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