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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Letters: Labour's mixed messages on immigration

It is sad that "Progressive Labour" now chooses to blame the immigrant for its problems (Come on, Labour, be brave on immigration for once, 8 March). In this, at least, the world has not changed much. When Enoch Powell made his "rivers of blood" speech, the London dockers marched in support. The Labour party then was too frightened to take on this working-class voice. This cowardice did not help us retain power in 1970.

Another recession and again the foreigner is blamed. Will it work this time? The boom in western economies between 1992 and 2007 was a benevolent outcome of globalisation in which all gained, and in the wake of its collapse, through no fault of immigrants, all have to reckon the cost. Labour may ask if its chancellor did not abandon prudence and marry profligacy after 2005. Did he not borrow at the top of the boom, ostensibly no doubt for investment, but where are the fruits of that investment? Why did the debt-GDP ratio rise before the crisis? Should we not blame the crisis on the Treasury browbeating the Financial Services Authority to go soft on the City? Was it the fault of immigants that Labour did not build any social housing during our years in power? Our open door to EU migration was one of the nobler gestures of New Labour, one that was truly internationalist. Now the times have changed. Ban immigration if you think it will win votes; just don't dress it up as socialism.
Meghnad Desai
Labour, House of Lords

• I deplore Labour's policy decision, announced by Yvette Cooper, to cut immigrant benefits (Cooper takes a lesson from Blair, 8 March); she has finally convinced me to cancel my 17-year Labour party membership. Labour's cynical U-turn smacks of crude political opportunism in the face of rising Ukip popularity and Daily Mail racism. Today the party reached a new rightwing pinnacle. I have always admired Ms Cooper's brave moral stance on issues such as childcare and the gender impact of the economic crisis, but on the BBC's Today programme she showed she is nothing more than a Labour stooge. Is she so caught up in partisan warfare that she is blind to the desperate European and international economic malaise emanating from the neoliberal economic policies, endorsed by Labour, which force educated, skilled migrants to seek jobs in the UK, encourage human trafficking and confine illegal immigrants to slave on sub-minimum wages to clean the houses and care for the elderly relatives of the politicians and privileged elites of this country? This is not the progressive, visionary, independent party I joined. I quit.
Clare Woodford

• I am disappointed to note that the whole tone of Yvette Cooper's speech on immigration (Labour's immigration policy takes on concerns about benefit tourism, 8 March) is to copy the Conservatives' appeal to British selfishness. Labour should be about equality – and not an equality that ends at the English Channel. Careful transitional provisions certainly, but not a cynical, vote-catching attitude to Johnny Foreigner. Why no mention of the opportunities for British citizens in new EU member countries? And why no stance on the logical case for excluding students from immigration statistics?
Michael Meadowcroft

• I read with interest your feature looking at the impact of eastern European migrants in a part of Southampton I am intimately connected with ('It's like you're not in Britain' – anxiety grows on the streets of Little Poland, 7 March). I was born and raised in the Freemantle neighbourhood, and 50 years on I find myself as an elected ward councillor for the area. A few weeks ago I attended a coffee morning hosted by Alan Whitehead, the local MP, and attended by residents (including many traditional Labour voters). A major area of concern was their sense of a "loss of identity".

While some of this anxiety can be attributed to the recent and rapid growth in the number of east European migrants and a proliferation of Slavic convenience stores, there are other important associated factors. These include: the loss of community pubs and their conversion to "local" convenience stores owned by the large supermarket chains; the conversion of many semi-detached houses and former offices into apartment blocks and houses in multiple occupation; unrelenting car parking and traffic problems related to this housing overdevelopment; and the replacement of traditional stores with takeaways, massage parlours, pawnbrokers and payday loan shops.

I would suggest that the real threat to the way of life of the traditional white working class in Freemantle (which has embraced a rich mix of ethnic groups since the last century, such as the Irish, Scottish, Afrikaners, Maltese, Italians and Greeks) is not from their new Polish, Czech, Bulgar or Vlach compatriots. A common foe exists in the form of unscrupulous landlords, exploitative, low-wage employers and the banks.
Cllr Dave Shields
Labour, Freemantle ward, Southampton

• Jonathan Portes's otherwise excellent debunking of the great migrant myth (The 'benefit tourism' crisis isn't really a crisis at all, 7 March) could, perhaps, be simplified into the kind of language that our monetarily myopic political class can understand. Think of this immigration as a kind of aid deal, in which the more deprived EU countries provide the UK with relatively cheap labour, for whom the costs of initial healthcare (vaccinations, medical checks, childhood illness treatments etc), education and training are all paid for by the donor countries. These trained, qualified and basically healthy young workers then work for the UK, often at below normal wages, before returning to their countries of origin, which then bear the costs of their healthcare and retirement in middle or old age: a much less costly package to the public purse than indigenous labour.
Bryn Jones
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