Over in the United States, in the competiton for the Democrats’ presidential candidate nomination, Bernie Sanders has suggested that illegal immigrants should have the same rights to welfare as American citizens.
“All of our people – when I say all I also mean the undocumented in this country – all of our people are entitled to basic human rights,” he told a campaign rally. This is part of what he calls “rethinking America”.
Sanders thus offers a context in which to mull how the Ango-American Left is ceasing to be the movement of the working class. Thus opening up the space for Boris Johnson to win his “stonking majority” last December.
Tony Blair set the scene in Britain by spurning transitional controls on migration from Eastern Europe in the wake of enlargement.
This was a significant factor in swelling the long-term rejection of Labour by a huge swathe of the working class. The New Labour years paved the way for the rise of UKIP and the EU referendum.
Lord Ashcroft’s research suggests that immigration was the second-biggest factor in driving Leave voters to back quitting the EU.
And Labour’s reluctance to abandon freedom of movement had an impact four years later. The Tory lead among CDE voters last year was bigger than among ABC ones.
Neil O’Brien correctly writes on this site today that the Conservatives are endangered in the medium-term by their lack of support among younger voters, city dwellers, public sector workers and ethnic minorities.
However, Labour is lost in the short-term, and for longer too, if its support outside Scotland is restricted to those parts of the population. There are not enough of them to build a durable majority.
The party’s majorities in some urban seats can be awesome, but the likes of Bristol West and its neighbours, Oxford East, Cambridge, Reading East, the Luton seats and Norwich South are like red islands amidst a blue sea.
And Labour’s main leadership election candidates seem set on digging themselves deeper into working class trouble as the ballot opens.
All three – including Keir Starmer, the likely winner – back restoring freedom of movement (though Rebecca Long-Bailey has suggested that this may be impractical).
The next election is a long away away, but the policy will be an albatross round Starmer’s neck for the next four years (if he wins and doesn’t resile from it).
Tony Blair is Labour’s past rather than its future, and his experiment has left a sour taste, at least in the mouth of those crucial voters in Red Wall seats.
But he is right to argue that the party has no electoral future if it remains rooted in so narrow a part of the population – a gallery that Starmer, Long-Bailey and Nandy are playing to.
His nose for the needs of the day is as acute as ever, and it is significant that he has alighted on transgender campaigners and his party’s future.
“If you go, ‘Transgender rights are our big thing,’ and the right say, ‘Immigration control is our big thing,’ you are going to lose that [culture] war, so you are not going to advance any of the things you want to do,” he said recently.
It comes as Nandy seeks to untie herself from self-inflicted knots over trans – explaining that she signed a pledge card demanding the expulsion of “bigoted” party members despite taking “pause for thought” first.
She went on to complain about pledge cards in general, saying that “with hindsight, if we could have all signed a pledge card at the beginning to say that we wouldn’t sign pledge cards”.
Nandy may not have been entirely serious. However, it is a statement of the obvious to say that if you don’t want to sign a pledge card…just don’t sign a pledge card. It’s as simple as that.
This Conservative site might be expected to rejoice at the prospect of the main opposition party setting itself on becoming unelectable if it possibly can.
On the contrary, we want Britain to have a proper opposition – not one set on sending out Ken Livingstone-style search parties for ever-more-hard-to-find favoured and fashionable minorites.
Clement Attlee set the post-war pattern for Labour by welding left-wing economics with a right-wing security policy – or at least a deeply patriotic one.
The party wobbled about during the 1970s and 1980s, but a certain norm of outlook and approach ultimately reasserted itself – until Blair and Gordon Brown quietly tore up the migration consensus and went for growth.
One wonders what Attlee would have made of the shift in his party, and that taking place within the Left throughout much of the Anglosphere, and elsewhere.
At any rate, Labour is leaving space for Boris Johnson to wind down the pace of government if he wants to – and himself advance an immigration policy that is deeply ambiguous.