Robert Winnett, Telegraph (London), September 25, 2011
The Labour leader insisted that the party had not set out to mislead the public over immigration but that the party’s policies had “effects on people right up and down the country” and that not enough was done to protect British workers.
Mr Miliband made the admission in an interview on the first day of Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool during which the party is under pressure to admit to mistakes made during its time in Government.
In the interview, the Labour leader also refused to criticise trade unions for threatening to strike in a dispute over pension reform.
Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, was recorded during the last election campaign criticising a pensioner expressing concern over immigration–an incident which is credited with characterising how Labour fell out of touch with the concerns of its supporters.
Yesterday, Mr Miliband was asked if he accepted that Labour had “lied” over the impact of its immigration policies.
“I don’t agree that we lied but I do agree that we got it wrong. I think we underestimated the level of immigration from Poland, which had a big effect on people,” he said
In another interview, he said: “I think we did introduce, we did allow the entry of Poland into the free movement of labour too quickly, and that clearly had effects on people right up and down the country. We’ve clearly got to learn those lessons for the future when it comes to future accession…if you have a more open economy in Europe, you’ve got to put in the right protection for people, for workers.”
The previous Labour Government allowed virtually unchecked immigration from eastern Europe to Britain.
Ministers initially claimed that the policy would only lead to about 15,000 people moving to this country annually–but hundreds of thousands of Poles and other eastern Europeans arrived.
It came as the Coalition will this week publish five reports which the Labour government failed to publish which showed that some migrants were more likely to be unemployed and less likely to engage with their communities.
One suggests that “immigrants in the UK exhibit lower employment rates than natives” and “immigrants are less likely than natives to engage in any form of civic participation”.
Another reveals that 27 per cent of people from Bulgaria and Romania, who joined the EU in 2007, had “low education levels”, while, as of 2009, more than 15 per cent of those in the UK were claiming benefits.
Mr Miliband, a former adviser to Gordon Brown and minister under the former Prime Minister, is increasingly being urged to distance himself from the previous administration with a “mea culpa” strategy this week.
Yesterday, he said: “I think we got some things wrong. Look, I think one of the things about me and my leadership is I’m the first person to say what we got right and what we got wrong. The biggest thing of all–and I will be saying this in my speech on Tuesday–we’ve got to change the way our economy works. We didn’t do enough to change the ethic of our economy. We’ve got a short-term fast buck economy.”
Liam Byrne, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said the party would not get re-elected if it delayed the “difficult business of getting back out there to think about what we got wrong, what we got right, and what we need to change.”
The Labour leader is also set to struggle this week to shake-off his “red Ed” nickname earned because of his apparent closeness to the trade unions.
Yesterday, he refused to condemn strike action and one of his first engagements at the Liverpool conference was a private meeting with trade unionists.
Asked about the strikes, Mr Miliband said: “I think they’ve got to be avoided, and I think the way they’ve got to be avoided is by government getting around the table and seriously negotiating.”
He added: “So what I say to the government is let’s not go back to the 80s, let’s not go back to a government spoiling for a fight. Let’s have a government seriously negotiating. There’s two months till this strike may happen. Their job is to avoid it happening.”