By Dave Stockton IN THE LAST weeks of the Referendum campaign the Brexit campaigners, led by Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, decided to play their ace – the widespread fears about immigration. With the mass readership of the right-wing Tory tabloids going into overdrive, administering their daily of horror stories about migrants, no one should have been surprised it had a major effect.
The old saying, “A lie can travel half way round the world before the truth has got its boots on” can rarely have been more apt.
Against The Sun with its 12.4 million readers, the Daily Mail with 9.5 million, the Daily Express with 2.7 million and the Daily Star with 2.7 million – the Mirror’s 9 million circulation was no match.
The right wing Labour MPs, who passionately hate Jeremy Corbyn, were vocal on the issue throughout the campaign. John Mann sneered that, “senior Labour figures are openly admitting defeat on this issue […] are finally admitting that uncontrolled migration is a problem”.
But who were these “senior” Labour Figures? Well, the Deputy Leader of the party Tom Watson – now demanding Jeremy resigns – was one:
“I think what we have to reassure people of is that if they vote Remain on Thursday 23 June, that isn’t the end of the reform package for Europe,” he said. “I think a future Europe will have to look at things like the free movement of labour rules.”
Former shadow chancellor Ed Balls – who lost his West Yorkshire seat at the 2015 general election, reportedly because of to a swing to UKIP – wrote in the Daily Mirror: “We need to press Europe to restore proper borders, and put new controls on economic migration”.
Jeremy Corbyn has however rejected such calls, declaring that free movement was an opportunity, rather than a “problem” or a fear:
“Too many voices in this debate are only playing that old trick – the blame game. And when politicians play the blame game, it’s usually because they have nothing serious to offer themselves”, Corbyn said in a speech in Yorkshire.
“Now they want to use people’s real concerns about the impact of EU migration to turn the campaign into a referendum on immigration.
“The Conservative governments of Thatcher and Major scrapped financial regulations that would have prevented the banking crash and Labour failed to re-regulate, so blame our own governments, don’t blame the EU or immigrants.”
“It was those same governments of the 1980s and early ’90s that deregulated the labour market so that zero hours contracts could flourish and the share of wealth going to workers fell off a cliff. It is unscrupulous employers and politicians who have allowed temporary contracts, agency and enforced part-time working and bogus self-employment to mushroom. So blame the politicians, who opened the door to rampant job insecurity.”
John McDonnell tackled the same question:
“The vast bulk of the evidence demonstrates that migrants pay more into the economy than they take out… Austerity is to blame. We mustn’t let the Tories use immigration as a smokescreen for the cuts in public expenditure that they’ve introduced as austerity.”
Hope not fear
Both Jeremy and John have been addressing the genuine problems lying behind the media and populist-induced phobias: low wages, insecure jobs, slashed social services, long waiting lists for council houses sold-off, under Blair as well as Thatcher. They have pointed out the invaluable work done by migrants, from the health service to the building trades, where governments and employers for decades have failed to train sufficient young people to do these jobs.
And they have advanced some of the answers: a decent living wage for all workers; a massive social house building programme; and a call for these to be applied across Europe, so there is no question of employers hiring underpaid labour to undercut their own workforces. They have emphasized the need for strong trade unions to defend workers, both native and migrant equally.
The old industrial areas, whose mines, steel mills and car factories were closed down under Thatcher, need a major plan of investment in infrastructure, job creation, education and training to banish the blight of the 1980s and 1990s.
But to do as Balls, Watson and many other PLP rebels suggest, and adopt an anti-migration policy, as the Labour Party did in the 1960s and again under Blair, would be a disaster. It cannot outbid Farage on racism. It can only lose voters – and Labour seats – to him and his scum.
It is to the credit of millions of party supporters – more Labour voters supported Remain than any other party’s – that they did not fall for the racist lies in the referendum campaign.
Labour has to stick with its present leaders’ rejection of the racist card that is one of the central issues in the battle with the right for the soul of the party.