Those who have wondering when Labour would hit back against the appalling rhetoric on post-Brexit immigration and employment coming out of the Conservative Party conference will have been delighted by the clear, unequivocal statement issued today by Wales’ First Minister and Labour Leader, Carwyn Jones. In an email to all Labour supporters in Wales he writes:
I am writing to you with a message I never thought I would need to communicate in 2016, and that is to say that there will be no “go home” message to foreign doctors in Wales. There will be no lists of foreign workers in Welsh businesses. We will also fight against proposals to shut the doors of our universities to the brightest and the best from around the world.
The content and tone of the announcements made in the Tory Conference have been disturbing, sinister and beneath contempt. This isn’t just dog-whistle politics, it is politics of the gutter.
When senior Tories said yesterday that foreign doctors and their families were only welcome here whilst they were needed, I said they are welcome full stop. We must reject the Tories’ terrible insult to people who work day in, day out to save and improve lives across Wales. What a terrible message to suggest that some people in our NHS, in our communities, are worth more than others.
It couldn’t be any clearer. It contrasts powerfully with the much more equivocal statement from Labour’s Westminster leadership, which finally appeared after a week of conspicuous absence. It mocks the Tories for failing to deliver on their immigration targets, but avoids taking a strong stand on policy:
Once again, they are making false promises on immigration they can’t deliver. Instead of turning people against each other, ministers should take action now to deal with the real impact of migration.
“They should stop the abuse of migrant labour to undercut pay and conditions, which would reduce numbers. They should support communities with high levels of migration and they should set out a positive agenda for fair migration
Carwyn Jones has a huge advantage, of course; he’s the First Minister who has won two consecutive elections, and speaks with the authority of government. He also speaks as a Party leader who faces six UKIP AMs (plus one UKIP defector) across floor of the Senedd But the most important fact is that he appears determined not to allow the kind of language we have heard from the Tories to become embedded in Welsh political discourse. Sadly Labour has not always been so determined – that immigration mug at the 2015 election and, more recently, inflammatory comments from, for example, Rachel Reeves. It’s a pity that the tone of the Westminster Labour leadership’s statement seems to fall into the same trap. As long as we play the numbers game, without challenging its underlying assumptions, we are allowing the Tories and UKIP (after this week the two seem increasingly indistinguishable) to set the agenda.
We cannout out-UKIP these Tories. Labour’s job now must be to speak truth to prejudice: immigration is good for the economy, recent immigrants put more into the public purse than they take out, the NHS is dependent at all levels on people from overseas. The insecurity that people feel – low and falling pay, job insecurity, squalid and overpriced housing – is caused, not by immigration, but by the policy choices of austerity economics (one would have thought that the current Westminster leadership might have been more willing to argue this line). We need to tell people that exclusion from the Single Market – the cost of Theresa May’s UKIP-lite post-Brexit vision – will make them poorer and less secure.
We in the Labour Party do not gain support among people who are drifting away from us by patronising them with a refusal to be honest with them, but by crafting honest narratives that reflect their experience. We need Nye Bevans in Wales and the North of England, not student politicians and ex-SPADs in London. And we need to understand that we will only beat these Tories at the ballot box if we refuse to accept their line. Carwyn Jones – a Labour leader who has won two national elections since 2010 – seems to understand that. Does the leadership in Westminster?