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Monday, June 07, 2010

Balls picks a fight with Brown

It is no real surprise that Ed Balls has sought to distance himself from his former mentor and political ally, Gordon Brown in his quest for the Labour leadership. What is surprising however is the issue he has chosen so as to define the difference and the consequences of his suggested alternative.

Balls claims that Brown blundered by ignoring the immigration issue during the election and yet my recollection is that not only did Labour use this issue quite heavily but that it also featured strongly on the telephone, in leaflets and in face-to-face contact as part of their counter-attack against the Liberal Democrats in the last week.

Mr. Brown's confrontation with Mrs Duffy in Rochdale did not show that he was 'not having the conversation' as Balls claims but that was the former PM was incapable of relating to ordinary people on a one-to-one basis.

What is particularly interesting however is the terms by which Ed Balls seeks to define the immigration debate. He does not talk about quotas or points systems but about the need to restrict the free-movement of labour within the European Community, a solution that would require the renegotiation of treaties and possibly even British withdrawal from the EU altogether.

There is no denying that Eastern European immigrants taking advantage of EU rules have been a source of tension within communities. But there is another side to this coin. That is that Britons too are emigrating to Europe to work in large numbers, and to stop inward migration would inevitably raise barriers that will prevent our citizens taking up jobs elsewhere as well.

In fact the whole free trade area depends on the movement of Labour. Once you have unpicked that element then you are no longer part of a club, which benefits our economy by billions of pounds each year and create thousands of jobs.

Although Ed Balls has opted for a popularist and superficially attractive option on immigration, the fact is that his defining moment is badly thought-through and contrary to the national interest.

If he really told Gordon Brown to take this course then the Prime Minister was well-advised not to listen to him. All Mr. Balls has succeeded in doing is to show that he is not fit for national leadership.
Playing the xenophobe card may work within the Labour Party, but does not necessarily give electoral advantage (thank goodness) judging by Phil Woolas, who had a fright in Oldham at the general election.
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