Posted on June 28, 2012

Labour Knew Immigration Was Out of Control Seven Years Ago, Says Former Minister

James Kirkup, Telegraph (London), June 22, 2012

Mr Denham, who is now permanent private secretary to Ed Miliband, the Labour Leader, said it was clear seven years ago that estimates for migrants were ‘vastly wrong.’

The Labour MP for Southampton said: “We were advised about 15,000 and about that came to Southampton alone in the first 18 months.”

Asked when he was first aware of the problem he added: “I think for me in really 2005. It was then it became clear that the estimates we relied on were vastly wrong.

“What we are acknowledging today is that far more people came in far more quickly than people anticipated.”

The last Labour government oversaw a liberal immigration policy that led to the arrival of hundreds of thousands of workers from eastern Europe.

In 2004 when the European Union expanded to take in Poland and other eastern states, the UK decided not to impose any restrictions on the arrival of citizens from those countries.

But Mr Denham refused to say there were too many immigrants coming to Britain.

The former chair of the Home Affairs Select Committe replied: “That’s not the issue we’ve been talking about today. I think there is a debate and a discussion still to be had about the numbers overall that you have in a country.”

Today Mr Miliband will admit in a speech that Labour got it wrong on immigration.

The Labour leader will say that while middle-class households benefited from mass immigration to Britain their working class counterparts suffered.

Mr Miliband will admit that the influx of cheap workers had been good for the middle classes who wanted a new conservatory but bad for the British labourers who built them.

Speaking on the ITV1 breakfast show, Mr Miliband said: “People are talking about this up and down the country. Labour’s got to talk about it, we can’t shy away from this issue.

“I think immigration benefits this country, but I think there are costs as well. And I think when we were in government, we were too slow to recognise some of those costs — the pressures on public services, the speed of communities changing, and the pressure on wages.

“It’s not wrong for people to employ Polish builders or French chefs or Swedish childminders, that’s a part of our economy, lots of people do it. What’s wrong is when for example the minimum wage isn’t paid, and there is evidence of that.”

Making a speech attempting to change the Labour Party’s image on issue of immigration, he will insist that being worried about the arrival of foreign workers in Britain is not racist.

Mr Miliband will admit mistakes by the last Government on immigration and promising to speak for working class voters concerned about recent changes in British society.

“Immigration made things easier for some, but it also makes things harder for others,” he will say. “If you wanted a conservatory built for your home, you were probably better off. If you were working for a company building conservatories, you probably weren’t.”

That was “a mistake”, Mr Miliband will say today, suggesting that the arrival in Britain of Poles and other workers from Eastern Europe has undermined living standards for some working-class households.

A Treasury calculation made under Labour and still in place today suggests that such mass immigration adds around 0.25 percentage points to annual economic growth.

However, such figures fail to take account of the wider impact of immigration and the “price” paid by poorer Britons, Mr Miliband will say.

“We were dazzled by globalisation and too sanguine about its price. By focusing exclusively on immigration’s impact on growth, we lost sight of who was benefitting from that growth,” he will say.

For some middle-class families, the availability of cheap skilled labour was a boon. Yet for workers facing new competition from the new arrivals, it had negative effects.

Mr Miliband will criticise employment agencies that specialise in immigrant workers, calling for a change in the law to prevent such firms offering staff solely from one country.

Labour will highlight a number of agencies which advertise an all-Polish workforce, suggesting such arrangements are unfair on British workers.

Many people in working-class areas have worries about immigration, Mr Miliband will say, citing his own constituents in Doncaster.

“They are worried about the future. They want there to be good jobs, they want their communities to grow strong once again. And they worry about immigration,” he will say.

“Worrying about immigration, talking about immigration, thinking about immigration, does not make them bigots. Not in any way. They are anxious about the future.”

Having ignored such fears in the past, Labour must now attempt to position itself as the party that can express voters’ worries about immigration, he will say.

The opposition must “listen to those anxieties and speak directly to them in return”, he will say. “That’s not bowing to the Right. It’s doing what Labour does best.”

Mr Miliband will also offer a public criticism of Gordon Brown’s infamous promise to provide “British jobs for British workers,” suggesting the pledge only fuelled public cynicism about politicians over immigration.

However Immigration Minister Damian Green said: “John Denham has blown apart Ed Miliband’s so-called apology for immigration under Labour by revealing what Labour really think.

“They still don’t think immigration was too high when they were in power and they still won’t say that immigration needs to come down.

“That’s why they’ve opposed every one of the Government’s policies to cut immigration, and it’s why they cannot be trusted to run Britain’s immigration policy.”