Post Brexit and the EU Referendum, immigrations have become an uncomfortable cause for the Labour party. With anti-migration sentiments haunting the party, it has been trying to put its foremost issue on the back burner, but owing to the latest developments, the party has found itself open to internal criticism and debate. The Pro-European Labour party has failed immensely in convincing its supporters to vote to remain as 70% of the Labour constituencies voted to leave, revealing a possible gap between the party’s ideals and the inclinations of its supporters! Opinion polls show that the issue of immigration was the basis for most voters choosing to leave the EU, something that needs to be re-evaluated to understand the failure of the remaining campaign. The Labour has to make a strong case supporting immigrations by busting immigration myths that led voters to leave the EU.
The Labour party has increasingly found it difficult to take a stance on the immigration issue ever since the end of Blair term, which also happened to be the last pro-immigration government with migration statistics that never dipped below 100,000. This, however, experienced a setback after the financial crash of 2008 and the aftermath of the Iraq War. Back in 2009, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) made a successful breakthrough by overtaking the Labour party during the European elections by securing the second-highest MEPs after Labour and in 2010 established a successful campaign that promised an annual limit on immigration to the UK. In 2015, the UKIP secured the third-highest votes with 12.5% votes with an enhanced campaign to curb immigration, this time to the scale of thousands. Following Brexit, the anti-migrant campaign has only become stronger. The Labour’s stance on immigration on top of the current sentiment of distrust over the economy has been the biggest deterrent to the party’s majority.
Throughout the period of unrest that surrounded the immigration issue, the Labour has maintained a pro-migration stance. While Gordon Brown campaigned for “British Jobs for British Workers” during the 2010 elections, followed closely by Ed Miliband’s campaign on “Control on Immigrations”, the anti-migration camp was winning, and more so, piggybacking on irrational fears of the public. The leadership elections that closely followed the 2015 elections were also famous for contenders who promised restrictions on immigration with Liz Kendall being the most vocal frontrunner for the campaign. Kendall refocused on the white working class with a stance that encouraged cuts to the tax credits availed by the EU migrant workers. The campaign was weakened with Jeremy Corbyn’s victory; however, as several political analysts pointed out, the anti-migrant sentiments prevailed. MPs within the Labour Party, such as John Mann and Simon Danzcuk, have long been criticising the party’s stance on immigration, and such voices would only get louder post Brexit.
However, adopting an anti-migrant stance would only backfire against the Labour Party as the current anti-migrant sentiment sweeping the nation is anything but rational! Studies have already proven that the concerns raised by the anti-migrant camp are factually erroneous. Not only have studies shown that immigration does not affect property or wage rates negatively but also established a positive link between immigrants and their contribution towards the economy, which turns out to be in the tune of £20 billion more than they take.
Studies have also established the fact that the camp has overestimated the number of EU migrants in the country. A recent poll conducted by Ipsos MORI showed that the average estimate of migrants in the UK is 10.5 million which is way off from the projected figure by 7 million, thereby lending a blow to the beliefs of voters who were concerned about the effects of immigration when they were least affected by it, thereby rendering it totally irrational and false. So what is the undercurrent that strengthens this campaign? As most political analysts opine, Fear! Most politicians and tabloids have made a career out of selling fear about Britain’s migrants, and seem to account for the prevalent economic crisis. It wouldn’t be wrong to also point out that this newfound hatred towards the European migrants has racist undertones as much of the anger is directed towards the racial stereotype of eastern Europeans and the Middle East refugees than the well educated western Europeans. As Britain is slowly turning into a post-factual democracy, the truth is based on sentiments than facts.
If the situation is assessed accurately, Labour is paying a heavy price for letting the anti-migrant camp gain centre stage that allowed the UKIP and conservatives to promote xenophobic sentiments, which gets only worse with Theresa May’s premiership. Not only is May known to be a supporter of the anti-migration campaign but she is also known for her legacy at the Home Office for migration targeting and mass deportations. The Labour Party, as it appears, seems to have lost the battle when it comes to immigration with a small chance of turning back the tide. The need of the hour for the party would be to initiate fresh debates on immigration and challenge the rationale resented by politicians and the media alike. Until then, it’s a wait and watch game!
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