Blair is un-Blairite on free movement of EU workers

John Rentoul

immig Blair is un Blairite on free movement of EU workersI agree with Ed Miliband and disagree with Tony Blair about Europe in my column for The Independent on Sunday today.

Here is a graph that shows the relative success of Miliband and Yvette Cooper’s approach to the question of immigration. YouGov regularly asks: “Which political party [do] you think would handle [asylum and immigration] best?” The chart plots the six-monthly averages for Conservatives and Labour.

You could argue that there is no necessary contradiction between the Miliband-Cooper restrictive approach to immigration and Blair’s urging that Labour should “confront” UKIP.

But I think Blair went too far on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme last week when he said:

The answer to the white, working class unemployed youth in alienated communities in Britain is not to tell them their problems would be solved if there were fewer Polish people working in the UK … It actually holds them back by giving them a grievance and not a chance.

I do not think anyone should assume that most people are mistaken to think that they have been adversely affected by free movement of EU workers.

I know all about the lump-of-labour fallacy, and that immigration is a symptom of success and a cause of further economic success. I know that there is no evidence that jobs have been lost and limited evidence that unskilled wages depressed in areas of high immigration. But none of that is quite the same as saying that people on low incomes are better off than if EU migration had been damped as much as possible.

If most voters say that there has been too much immigration in too short a time it is only democratic to assume that they know what they are talking about.

Once upon a time, Blair understood this.

This by Peter Kellner on the politics of immigration is thoughtful, but I think his conclusion leans too much to the neo-Blairite view that we should ignore what the majority think if we disagree with it:

All three main parties should stop worrying about what voters think about immigration. Instead, they should work out what is right for Britain: for its economy and its society. They should do this honestly and openly, admitting that the task is complex, and that the problems are real and will take time to solve. They should stop chasing voters who hold fierce and simple views on the issue, on either side. Their votes are either locked up or lost. What the voters who have yet to make up their minds are looking for are parties and leaders with the right character. On this, as on so many other things, authenticity and moral courage tends to be more attractive than cowardice and self-cynical populism.

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  • newfriendofed

    All very complicated. In the original Blairite position, the core vote that they were attempting to reach beyond was the working class. In this new Neo-Blairite position that J. R. is advocating the core vote to be reached beyond is the liberal/metropolitan elite and the group it is trying to reach is now the working class.

  • porkfright

    Some of us have found out, but we aren’t telling you.

  • Pacificweather

    The interesting thing about the “neoconservative persuasion”, as Irving Kristol, the godfather of neoconservatism calls its adherents, is how they take a pragmatic view of ideology (something they are rather proud of) and how they hardly exist outside the USA.  Tony Blair being the notable exception. They also love to disagree and contradict each other, shifting their position even on fundamentals like Judeo-Christian morality over time.  For many years they hid their Trotskyist roots but, now it no longer matters, some are more open about it.

    To answer the question of neocon attitude to immigration you would have to reference it to not only a point in time but to place and individual.  For the longest period the majority were for immigration into the USA.  In the southern enclave the most powerful were not only for it but positively insisted on it.  Once in the immigrants could not get out.  However, consistent with their pragmatic ideology, even this position has started to change more recently.

  • mightymark

    What you seem to be saying is that there is probably no such thing as “neo conservatism”. I’ll sort of buy that. There is such a thing as “neo liberalism” and such a thing as conservatism with considerable crossover between the two especially since the days of Thatcher and Reagan.

    The foreign policy angle of so called “neo conservatism” is really its only unique feature and is not peculiar to the right being shared by many who would very broadly, identify more with the left than the right, along with others who would deny the neo con label entirely. As would I.

  • JohnRentoul

    Good point, but the core vote in the 1980s and 90s was actually the leftie public-sector base.

  • munch58

    But Cooper doesn’t have any approach or strategy other than smear Theresa May on the odd occasion she can other than that she’s just a serial whinger (but I suppose living with Balls probably doesn’t help and it must be such fun in that household, not…)

  • Pacificweather

    Since when did the leftie public sector base read The Sun that Blair so assiduously courted and why did they keep to Conservative fiscal policies for 2 years if they were courting the leftie public sector? You should have stopped at ‘good point’.

  • Pacificweather

    Yes, I am rather taken with the idea that Trotskyist had such a strong influence on the Republican party. It has a symmetry to it that is rather appealing.

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