Andy Burnham yesterday became the latest candidate in the Labour leadership battle to admit that his party had ignored voters’ concerns about immigration.
The former health secretary said their worries over the influx of migrants had, for him, been the biggest issue at the General Election.
The party made little mention of it in its manifesto and Gordon Brown denounced Labour supporting grandmother Gillian Duffy as a ‘bigot’ when she mentioned her concerns.
Former home secretary David Blunkett yesterday endorsed Mr Burnham in the race to succeed Mr Brown.
Mr Burnham said: ‘I think our problem on immigration–and it was for me anyway clearly the biggest issue at the election–was the sense that we weren’t talking about it, so that some people felt we were either in denial or just didn’t want to talk about it.’
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that there were some parts of the country that had changed very rapidly. Labour should have been addressing those concerns ‘other-wise we leave a vacuum and those with more sinister intentions come in and whip up fear and hatred’.
Fellow contenders Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have both raised immigration during their opening salvoes of the leadership battle.
But they were rebuked for their comments by another contender, Diane Abbott.
The veteran Left-winger said she did not like the way that the other candidates were discussing immigration, adding that it did not lose Labour the election.
‘The black and white working class are moaning about Eastern European immigrants,’ she told Sky News Sunday Live.
‘It’s a proxy for a lack of security on jobs and housing. . . . It’s very dangerous to scapegoat immigrants in a recession.’
She suggested reviving the Lib Dems’ plans to give an amnesty to illegal immigrants who had lived in Britain for a decade or more.
Miss Abbott played down speculation that she had no chance of winning, pointing to a YouGov poll which had her as the second most popular leadership candidate.
The survey for The Sunday Times showed David Miliband has 23 per cent support among voters, Miss Abbott 9 per cent, Ed Miliband 8 per cent, Mr Balls 6 per cent, Mr Burnham 4 per cent, and John McDonnell 2 per cent.
Labour’s new leader will be announced at the party’s conference in the autumn.