How does the media reporting influence UK labour market decision-makers and therefore the policy process regarding refugee employment and, secondly, which implications does this have on refugees themselves who seem to be the last link in this complex chain? These are the two overarching questions that have been discussed at Transitions’ Advisory Network meeting organized by Transitions, a social enterprise from London whose mission is to facilitate employment of skilled refugees. The aim of the meeting was to discuss how the media affects challenges refugees looking for employment face, as well as the possible solutions to those.
Source: Migrant & Refugees Communities Forum
By John Burnett
Phil Woolas, one of the harshest of immigration ministers, has lost his parliamentary seat for distributing misinformation about immigration to tar his opponent.
The ejection of Phil Woolas from Parliament, and suspension from the Labour Party, on 5 November 2010, for untruthful and inflammatory statements made when campaigning in the general election earlier in the year, has been widely reported. His electoral opponent, the Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins, brought a case against him for breaching provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1983. A specially convened court heard how the Woolas campaign team intended to ‘get the white folk angry’, by distributing provocative leaflets to voters in Oldham, of which one stated: ‘Extremists are trying to hijack this election. They want you to vote Lib Dem to punish Phil for being strong on immigration. The Lib Dems plan to give hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants the right to stay. It is up to you? Do you want the extremists to win?’ In the first decision of its kind since the beginning of the twentieth century, the courts ruled that the election, which Woolas had won by just over 100 votes, was invalid.
A chequered history
Phil Woolas has a controversial history where ‘race’ is concerned. He won his first seat for the Labour Party in 1997 and was made minister for local government in 2005. The following year, a representative of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee alleged that Woolas told him that his concerns about British foreign policy were ‘illegitimate’ and representative of an ‘extremist view’. Months later Woolas called for the sacking of a Muslim teaching assistant for wearing a niqab in classes.
He was appointed immigration minister in October 2008 and, within a month, attacked organisations and lawyers providing support to asylum seekers as an ‘industry’ with a ‘vested interest’. Most people seeking asylum, he claimed, were not in need of protection, and soon after, he made clear his intent to stop appeals to high court judges from refused asylum seekers who were going to be removed from the UK.
As immigration minister he was accused on a number of occasions of making claims which were disingenuous. Speaking on behalf of the Home Office in 2009 he stated that from ‘time to time we are accused of expecting gay men and lesbians to be discreet, effectively to suppress their sexuality in order to avoid persecution. This is not an accurate representation’. Yet a year later, in a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court allowed the appeals of two gay men against their negative asylum decisions; they had initially been refused asylum on the basis that, according to the Home Office, they could hide their sexuality.
Later that same year, Woolas defended the policy of detaining children for immigration purposes – a policy described as ’state sponsored cruelty’ by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg – by suggesting that incarceration was for the child’s own benefit. Without producing any evidence to support his claims, he stated that detaining children protected them from falling into the hands of traffickers. Not detaining them, he maintained, ‘ends up with dead bodies in lorries in Calais’.
This, in turn, came months after he announced plans to build a detention centre in Calais, in order to appease those demanding increased deportations. ‘We want to increase the profile of the deportations’, he said, ‘because we have to get the message back to Afghanistan and Iraq that Britain is not the Promised Land’. Afghanistan, in particular, appeared to be recurrent in his thoughts and in November 2009 he told the Home Affairs Select Committee that the invasion and ongoing military occupation of the country was, in part, ‘to help us control immigration’.
Perhaps it was the fact that he had already got away with so much fast and loose talk on immigration that made him think he could malign his electoral opponent with impunity. Within weeks of being ejected from Parliament he sought to appeal the decision and maintained that his treatment by the courts was an attack on free speech. His lawyer suggested that the freedom to make claims such as those that Woolas had made were ‘vital to democracy’.
Freedom to offend?
The basis of Woolas’ appeal, according to his legal team, was that the courts had misinterpreted the law. They alleged that this misinterpretation rested on the fact that he had been charged for making attacks on the ‘personal character or conduct’ of his electoral opponent with ‘no reasonable grounds for believing them to be true, and did not believe them to be true’. Woolas claimed though that the attacks had been on the ‘political’, rather than ‘personal’, conduct of his opponent and, consequently, were exempt from the legislation. That the electoral strategies deployed were offensive and inflammatory was not disputed; and it is this factor which explains the interpretation of freedom of speech being defended. The freedom to capitalise on hostility – so as to question the political conduct of his electoral opponent – was something which he was prepared to fight to preserve in the courts.
The full extent to which Woolas’s campaign tactics were based on offensive stereotypes and fabrications is made clear in the transcript of the proceedings in the specially convened electoral court. Correspondence between members of his team was presented which indicated that they were wholly aware of the nature of their attacks and their potential to cause insult and create tensions: one person questioned whether they were ‘attacking Muslims too much’. Yet only a few days later this momentary wavering appeared to have been resolved and it was decided that: ‘I think that we stick with the game plan all the way now… we have to get [constituents] voting for Phil, rather than Lib Dem. Repeat the target, the mad Muslims. Ask the question Stand by yer man?! For evil to succeed etc. Reuse the photo of the mad Muslims and the behead sign.’ This ‘game plan’, it is clear, prioritised electoral victory over the potentially negative consequences which could occur when demonising certain Oldham constituents. It was a game plan which exploited anti-Muslim racism in order to secure votes. And, as a result, the expulsion of Woolas from politics could have very real implications for how freedom of speech is interpreted in future elections.
On 3 December 2010, the High Court upheld the earlier decision of the electoral court and argued both that Woolas had lied, and that these lies had underpinned attacks on the personal character of his opponent. At least some sections of the judiciary refuse to accept that freedom of speech equates to freedom to deceive and foster tensions. In a written submission to the electoral court Helen Mountfield QC, for Elwyn Watkins, summarised this perspective when stating: ‘It is no part of the law to protect freedom of expression where that freedom is abused to make one section of the community angry about, and fearful of, another on the basis of falsehoods.’
Continuing political support
Notwithstanding the decisions of the courts, a groundswell of political pressure, which seeks to legitimise Woolas and his tactics, appears to have built up some momentum. In order to meet his legal fees he reportedly received over £30,000 from well-wishers including Gordon Brown, Cherie Blair, members of the Labour Party, and constituents in Oldham: a level of support which, he said, made him feel ‘humbled’. His backing spread through the party and culminated in what some MPs and ex-ministers have termed a ‘mutiny’ against the Labour leadership for their decision to expel him.
Such support may indicate the extent to which some politicians echo Woolas’s sentiments that it is acceptable to exploit tensions for parliamentary gain. Worse, it suggests the extent to which open hostility to Muslim communities in the UK is legitimised in some spheres of mainstream politics. For Woolas himself though, as he admitted, it is the ‘end of the road’. A man, who, as immigration minister, stated that part of his job was to ’sift out those who want to break our rules’, has himself been ejected from politics for having not being able to stick to them.
Source: Institute of Race Relations
References:  Guardian, 13 September 2010, ‘Phil Woolas election campaign ‘fomented racial tension”, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/sep/13/phil-woolas-election-campaign.  New Statesman, 11 October 2010, ‘Why is Phil Woolas back on Labour’s frontbench?’, http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2010/10/woolas-minister-lib-election.  Independent, 29 October 2006, ‘Woolas dismisses young Muslim’s view as “crap”‘, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/pandora/woolas-dismisses-young-muslims-views-as-crap-413775.html.  BBC News Online, 15 October 2006, ‘Minister “reckless” over veil row’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/6053298.stm.  Guardian, 18 November 2008, ‘You can’t come in’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/nov/18/immigration-policy-phil-woolas-racism?intcmp=239.  Guardian, 21 November 2008, ‘Woolas plans to curb high court role in deportation cases’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/nov/21/phil-woolas-high-court-immigration .  Labourlist, 3 July 2009, ‘LGBT refugees will be marching free from fear this weekend’, http://www.labourlist.org/lgbt_refugees_marching_free_from_fear_phil_woolas.
 HJ and HT v Secretary of State for the Home Department (on appeal from  EWCA Civ 172) UKSC 31, 7 July 2010.  Cited in Scotsman, 16 December 2010, ‘Minister: we must lock up asylum children like Precious, to stop them ending up dead in lorries in Calais’, http://heritage.scotsman.com/topstories/Minister-We-must-lock-up.5914328.jp. For further discussion about disingenuous claims underpinning the detention of children see Open Democracy, 16 November 2010, ‘On Her Majesty’s Deceitful Service: The Woolas Case and the Ignoble Lies of the British State’, http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/simon-parker/on-her-majesty’s-deceitful-service-woolas-case-and-ignoble-lies-of-british-s.  Telegraph, 18 March 2009, ‘Detention centre planned for illegal immigrants in Calais’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/5007578/Detention-centre-planned-for-illegal-immigrants-in-Calais.html.  Telegraph, 4 November 2009, ‘British troops in Afghanistan helping control asylum, claims minister’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/6501536/British-troops-in-Afghanistan-helping-control-asylum-claims-says-minister.html.  Financial Times, 5 November 2010, ‘Verdict will “chill political speech”‘, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9711ffee-e916-11df-a1b4-00144feab49a.html#axzz17Kq1FSMU.  BBC News Online, 17 November 2010, ‘Judgement reserved in Phil Woolas election case’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11777133.  Watkins v Woolas  EWHC 2702 (QB), 2 November 2010, para. 150.  Ibid, para. 158.  Woolas, R (on the application of) v The Speaker of the House of Commons  EWHC 3169 (Admin), 03 December 2010.  Cited in Guardian, 16 November 2010, ‘Phil Woolas claims decision to strip him of his seat was attack on free speech’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/nov/16/phil-woolas-strip-seat-free-speech.  Oldham Advertiser, 15 November 2010, ‘Phil Woolas: I’ve been humbled by support’, http://menmedia.co.uk/oldhamadvertiser/news/s/1371233_phil_woolas_ive_been_humbled_by_support.  BBC News Online, 9 November 2010, ‘Harriet Harman faces Labour anger over Woolas comments’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11719438.  Independent, 4 December 2010, ‘Woolas’s exit paves way for BNP to stand in by-election’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/woolass-exit-paves-way-for-bnp-to-stand-in-byelection-2150767.html.  Guardian Comment is Free, 14 July 2009, ‘Our border controls are firm but fair’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jul/14/phil-woolas-border-controls.
HAT News is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.
The Refugee Council today welcomed Ed Miliband’s comments that his core values came from his parents’ experiences as refugees from Nazi Europe, in his first speech as new Labour leader at the Labour party political conference today.
In response, Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“We are delighted that in Ed Miliband’s first speech as Labour leader he acknowledged his parents’ refugee background as having a significant influence on his values and strength of character. This is testament to the outstanding contribution refugees have brought to the UK over the years.
“Next year is the 60th anniversary of the UN Convention for Refugees – a timely reminder that refugees arriving in the UK today in need of safety have as much right to protection here as refugees, like Miliband’s parents, who arrived here from Europe all those years ago.
“This month, as the political parties debate immigration policy at their conferences, we urge them to remember the importance of refugee protection and to work together to develop an asylum system that ensures those fleeing unimaginable horrors in their own countries can have the protection they need here in the UK.”
The Refugee Council is holding a fringe meeting in conjunction with UNHCR at the Labour political party conference in Manchester entitled Ensuring refugee protection while building public trust in immigration, on Wednesday 29 September from 6-7.30pm at the Manchester Central Hotel, Central room 3.
Curry house owners believe moves to clamp down on immigration could harm their businesses.
Indian restaurants in Leicester say the UK’s first cap on non-EU arrivals could make it harder for them to recruit homegrown chefs.
Home Secretary Theresa May has introduced a temporary limit on immigrants to prevent a “surge” of applicants in the run-up to the permanent cap next April.
But restaurant bosses say their businesses rely on chefs who have wide experience of working in eateries all over India and come to the UK to earn a living.
By John Grayson
A member of the South Yorkshire Migration and Action Group analyses how racist assumptions have been embedded by Labour politicians.
The general election campaign focused on the big ‘I’ – immigration; but the underlying ‘common sense racism’ of media and political debate framed much of the public arguments. The political world after the election is beginning to look very much the same and constantly reminds us of the insidious way in which Labour governments have embedded racist assumptions and practices in the everyday languages of politics and the very fabric of the state.
First a reminder of the way in which Labour embraced the agenda of the racist Right.
It seems a long time ago that Labour’s ‘no platform’ policy towards the BNP was breached by Jack Straw’s offer to the BBC to appear with Nick Griffin on Question Time – even longer since Gordon Brown made his speech on ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ to the TUC in the autumn of 2007. On reflection this speech ranks perhaps with Margaret Thatcher’s ’swamping’ speech of 1978 in signalling an official Labour turn to an agenda dominated by ‘xeno-racism’. The TUC that year had no motions before it which remotely reflected this racist slogan, merely motions on agency workers’ rights and organising migrant workers. In fact, despite incitement from politicians, the TUC and all the major unions have in their official policies maintained a principled position on migrant workers and asylum seekers – for instance backing the ‘Let them work’ campaign. When Nick Clegg backed this slogan in the election campaign, Alan Johnson with his ‘trade union background’, called it ‘utter, utter madness’.
Before the election: making the far Right respectable
The response to far-Right politics by Labour has been simply a craven retreat from principle and a race to grant the BNP its main aim of ‘legitimacy’, being embraced by the mainstream as simply another political party competing in the ‘democratic’ system.
This was highlighted in the debates and campaigns within education leading up to the general election. Education was an important battleground because the BNP MEP for Yorkshire, Andrew Brons, is a controversial former further education lecturer at Harrogate College. The educational trades unions are all active in and fund the national and local campaigns of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and called on the government to ban BNP members from schools, colleges, and universities. The Labour government and the schools secretary Ed Balls’ pre-election response was to commission ‘investigations’ and ‘guidance’ on how to respond.
The Citizenship Foundation, a government funded charity, was asked to give guidance in the treatment of the BNP in ‘citizenship’ education in schools and colleges and whether BNP candidates should be invited into schools and colleges as part of election debates. The Foundation decided that the BNP was ‘radical not extremist’. ‘In this discussion we distinguish between “extremist” and “radical” groups, where radical means groups working within the democratic system to achieve fundamental changes to the way society is run.’ Extremism, by contrast, could be described as: ‘the active pursuit of and/or support for fundamental changes in society that may endanger the continued existence of the democratic order (aim), which may involve the use of undemocratic methods (means) that may harm the functioning of the democratic order (effect)’.
Some campaigners might argue this is a fairly precise definition of what the BNP actually sets out to do within classic tactics. But apparently ‘It is important to note here that the BNP, as a lawful political party, cannot and does not openly advocate violence and in their public pronouncements and activities they take great care to remain within the law’.
Don Rowe the head of the Foundation put forward the classic argument that if people vote for and elect extremist candidates then the party cannot be extremist. ‘The issue of the need to treat the BNP as an existing political party is much clearer in the sense that there are MEP’s’… It is in fact anti-racist campaigners who are going too far: ‘teachers who tend to be anti-BNP themselves, may be going too far in promoting anti-racist views’ (my emphasis).
Ed Balls then asked Maurice Smith a former chief inspector of schools to look at a ban on BNP teachers following bans in the prison and police services. Smith reported in March 2010 that there were only a tiny number of teachers involved in incidents of racist teaching and a ban would be disproportionate.
‘In addition to the argument that a ban would be disproportionate, there are other difficulties. Although police and prison officers are banned, to ban more than half a million teachers from joining a legitimate organisation would take this to a different scale of magnitude’ (my emphasis).
The argument on legitimacy then was won by the BNP, officially state-recognised as ‘lawful’ and a ‘legitimate organisation’. Ed Balls on behalf of the Labour government immediately accepted all the recommendations of the Smith report, and issued the Citizenship Foundation guidance to schools.
Media and racism after the election
In the days since the election, the elation at the BNP being ‘defeated’ is rapidly fading as Con-Dem and Labour leadership policies and debates unfold – and the media ‘wallpaper’ continues to poison the political climate.
There has been no end to the continuous drip feed of racism in the print media with stories of ‘illegals’ being discovered in lorries, under coaches on school trips and trapped in refrigerated lorries. The Sunday Express on the eve of major political developments with the Con-Dem coalition decided to run a front page headline reminder to the coalition to stick with the Tory promises on a ‘Gypsy Law’ of criminal trespass.
Despite this racist atmosphere the BNP could certainly still implode and retreat but the fact remains that they did poll well in areas where they had little or no organisation. In Barnsley with very little local effort BNP candidates received 12,423 votes in the local elections, and they still have a regular Saturday stall in the town centre. They did lose two councillors in their heartland of Stoke – but five were re-elected. Overall they still have nineteen councillors having lost twenty-six. Perhaps a BNP in decline could take comfort in the fact that Labour politicians, even those grasping at the leadership have decided that stealing BNP policies is the way back for Labour to win the support of that mythical ‘white working class’. As John Harris, writing in the Guardian has put it: ‘Some Labour people seem to have come to a truly stupid conclusion that the Con-Dem coalition has to be outflanked on the right, because the proles demand it.’
Certainly Margaret Hodge has drawn the conclusion from her victory against Nick Griffin that in bad times ‘we’ should find ‘ways of rationing’ housing and other services on the basis of ‘how long you have been there’. Housing campaigners will immediately recognise a return to the bad old days of racist ‘minimum waiting times’ and local residence qualifications of the 1960s and 1970s aimed at producing the all-white council estates in places like Bradford and Birmingham which politicians have agonised over in the past twenty years.
It is also interesting that BBC radio has returned to the fray with an analysis of the BNP on the World this Weekend. There was an interview with ‘Renée’ who ‘didn’t like multiculturalism’, and because she was a ‘wartime person’ did not vote BNP. She did agree with them but not in their ‘nasty way’. The programme also had an interview with the new communities secretary Eric Pickles who wanted to deal ‘with the consequences of unrestricted immigration’ and in a dig at Hodge, but not by ‘pandering to BNP policies’.
BBC TV has managed to confirm the criticism of racist bias during the campaign by suddenly, (when the voting is over) screening independent films on the reality of asylum seekers lives (Truth, Lies and Asylum Seekers) and the racism and violence of the English Defence League (Young, British and Angry).
Business as usual? Racism and the Labour leadership
The Labour leadership and the leadership contest race threaten to move Labour policies even further right into racist territory. Ed Balls will need to explain his pre-election policies as schools secretary. Ed Miliband needs to answer some pretty fundamental questions about why he should become leader when as author of the Labour manifesto he included a whole section shamefully and provocatively headed ‘Crime and Immigration’. As a local MP in Doncaster earlier this year Ed Miliband backed a local campaign in Bentley in his constituency to prevent a Gypsy and Traveller site.
Local MP Ed Miliband, who had supported the residents, said: ‘This was clearly not an appropriate site for travellers given the policy of the council … The people of Bentley have made their views clear.’
The site had been chosen using Labour government guidelines, Ed Miliband chose to back local bigots including the local English Democrat mayor of Doncaster in the campaign which successfully kept another site for Gypsies and Travellers (the largest ethnic minority community in Doncaster) out of his constituency.
Andy Burnham another leadership candidate has set his stall out adding ‘his voice to the emerging consensus that Labour in government failed to act convincingly on immigration … For me the big task is for Labour to reconnect with people who are feeling this. They need to feel that Labour understands what they are saying and then will take steps to address it.’ It will be interesting, and perhaps chilling, to see what ’steps’ he comes up with.
There is still potentially the anti-racist John McDonnell; and with Diane Abbott entering the race we have the voice of a Black woman and another principled anti racist and asylum rights campaigner being aired to de-toxify the leadership campaign. There is also the very sobering fact that both have already been written off by the mainstream media.
Diane Abbott has put her position clearly: ‘Rather than wringing our hands about the white working class and immigration, we need to deal with the underlying issues that make white and black people hostile to immigration, things like housing and job security. We need to be careful about scapegoating immigrants in a recession. We know where that leads’.
Campaigners inside and outside the Labour Party can only hope that ‘immigration’ and migrants and asylum seekers rights can be seized from the racist drift of Labour policies.
Then we can start an offensive on the media and on the Con-Dem coalition…
References:  ‘EXPOSED: BNP man’s past’ (http://www.harrogateadvertiser.net/harrogatenews/EXPOSED-BNP-man39s-past-.5362613.jp), Harrogate Advertiser, (12 June 2009).  Billy Crombie and Don Rowe, 2009, Dealing with the British National Party and other radical groups: guidance for schools, Citizenship Foundation and Association for Citizenship Teaching, http://www.wdwtwa.org.uk/files/Dealing_with_the_British_National_Party_and_other_radical_groups_-_Guidance_for_Schools.pdf, pp 2-3.  Ibid, p 3.  Fran Abrams, ‘Should far-right parties have a platform in school debates?’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/apr/13/bnp-school-debates-general-election), Guardian, (13 April 2010).  Maurice Smith, Maurice Smith Review: a review of the measures to prevent the promotion of racism by teachers and the wider workforce in schools, http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/mauricesmithreview/, p 2.  Eugene Henderson, ‘Gypsy camp crackdown’ (http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/176672), Sunday Express, (23 May 2010).
 John Harris, ‘Labour’s new motto: immigration, immigration, immigration’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/21/labour-immigration-daft-strategy), Guardian, (22 May 2010).  BBC Radio 4, World this Weekend (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00sf7j3#synopsis), (23 May 2010).  Ibid.  BBC Scotland, Truth, Lies and Asylum seekers (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00scqlk/Truth_Lies_and_Asylum_Seekers/), (19 May 2010).  BBC 3, Young, British and Angry (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00sh6xp/Young_British_and_Angry/), (19 May 2010).  ‘Travellers’ site near homes plan scrapped’ (http://www.doncasterfreepress.co.uk/free-press-news/Travellers39-site-near-homes-plan.6101517.jp), Doncaster Free Press, (25 February 2010).  Allegra Stratton and Patrick Wintour, ‘Andy Burnham joins Labour leadership race with immigration pledge’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/19/andy-burnham-labour-leadership-immigration), Guardian, (20 May 2010).  Huir Muir, ‘If not now, when? And if not me, who?’, Guardian, (21 May 2010).  Harris, op. cit.
HAT News is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.
By Neil O’Brien
I am struck by the blandness of the Labour leadership debate so far. Almost all Labour commentators, from new Labour architect Anthony Giddens to the main leadership candidates David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham have produced an almost identical analysis: “the voters thought we had lost touch… 10p tax… crime…not taking people for granted” etc etc. The only distinctive thing about any of them so far has been Andy Burnham’s intriguing 1980s website.
As James Forsyth has pointed out, so far no one has had the guts to tell the party anything very brave yet. In fact the two big trends in the Labour leadership race are about what is not being said: the denial about debt, and confusion about immigration.
As Danny Finkelstein has noted, not one of the candidates has mentioned the deficit. With concern about the economy hitting an all time high this week (higher even than the 1980s or 1990s recessions) this is bizarre, but it reflects a party frozen by 13 years of chanting the “investment versus cuts” mantra. A new approach is needed.
The Observer – It is now generally recognised in British politics that expressing concern about the scale of recent immigration into the country is not necessarily a sign of racism.
That is an important point, since the alternative is to impose on mainstream politicians a fear of unjustified condemnation. Too much caution in touching the subject risks surrendering the terms of debate to the real racists: the British National party.
It is partly a rise in the BNP’s profile that has changed the way the issue is discussed, not always for the better.
There is no doubting the impact of recent, sustained high levels of immigration. As the Observer reports today, a new study commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission estimates that 1.5 million workers have come from eastern Europe alone since 2004. They took the opportunity of EU enlargement to seek opportunities in Britain’s then buoyant labour market.
By Patrick Wintour
Migrant workers will only fill jobs temporarily in parts of the economy where there are labour shortages, says PM
Gordon Brown will intervene in the critical issue of immigration, using a major speech tomorrow to promise that migrant workers will only be used to fill jobs temporarily in parts of the economy where there are labour shortages.
He will make it a requirement that government-sanctioned training schemes are created to ensure that unskilled British workers can ultimately take on the jobs in sectors where there are genuine skills shortages, such as catering, supply teaching or some skilled medical and engineering jobs.
The speech will be seen as an effort to give meaning to his promise of “British jobs for British workers”. His intervention follows private polling conducted during the summer by the Unite trade union showing that immigration is the single biggest issue leading natural Labour voters to defect either to the more extreme parties, such as the British National party, or into refusing to vote at all.
Ministers have acknowledged that they have ceded ground to the BNP either by not talking about immigration or by not confronting the BNP’s true politics.
The issue is likely to become more potent as unemployment increases and the Conservatives claim the number of migrants in the UK is the result of a deliberate government strategy to create a multicultural Britain.
Brown has not made a significant speech on immigration since he became prime minister and tomorrow’s speech is seen by some ministers close to the issue as belated, if welcome. Brown has also been accused of coming late to the issue of antisocial behaviour.
Earlier this week Alan Johnson, the home secretary, said: “People think we have shied away from a debate on immigration. They may well be right.
“The public deserves a rational debate on this, rather than what they sometimes get, which is at the extreme end of the scale.”
The prime minister, in his speech, will again reject Tory proposals for an annual cap on immigrants, arguing that the policy is unworkable and cannot be implemented due to the free movement of workers inside the EU.
Ministers also claim the flexibility inherent in the government’s points system introduced in 2008 allows the government to raise or lower the bar on who can be allowed into the UK, in effect having the same impact as an annual quota.
Brown will also propose a tightening of the “labour market test” that allows employers to recruit migrants from outside the settled workforce for a skilled job only if they can show no suitably qualified settled worker can fill the job.
Under the test, a job vacancy must also be advertised for two weeks before a migrant can be recruited. The prime minister will say that in future the job will have to be advertised for a month. Brown will also highlight the government’s decision to require employers to set up accredited skills training schemes in any areas of the economy where there is a shortage of skills requiring employers to recruit from abroad. In an effort to take the heat out of the argument, he will say there has been a 44% fall in net immigration over the last year, and as a result of the points system the number of people who can enter Britain for work without skills has been reduced.
The Migration Advisory Committee, a government advisory body, said in a report last week that the number of people in the government’s skills shortage list had fallen in a year from 700,000 to 500,000. That represented less than 2% of all employees. The committee also found: “Net immigration for work-related reasons has fallen throughout 2008, and a net outflow of all nationalities migrating for work reasons was recorded in the year to December 2008.”
The controversy has deepened in recent weeks owing to the Office of National Statistics projecting a population increase of 10.4 million to 71.6 million by 2033. Of this 10.4 million, the contribution of immigration, directly or in the form of new births, would be 7 million.