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Monday, December 12, 2016

Labour's UKIP light politicians

For some time during the coalition government, Ken Clarke was known as the sixth Liberal Democrat cabinet minister. That was most probably a tad unfair on him, but when reading his comments on Labour's Andy Burnham today, I can understand how he acquired the tag.

Politics Home reports that Mr. Clarke has labelled Andy Burnham’s recent stance on immigration as sounding like a "paler version" of Nigel Farage.

Andy Burnham has attacked Labour's support for free movement in the Commons last week, saying it is “inherently discriminatory” and “undermining the cohesion” of the UK.

The former Labour leadership contender argued free movement puts downward pressure on wages and causes a strain on schools and public services. Of course it also relieves pressure in certain labour markets, and facilitates free trade, which creates jobs and keeps prices down:

Ken Clarke said: “Unlike Andy, going on about free movement of labour, sounding a bit like a paler version of Nigel Farage, Boris (Johnson) has never been anti-immigrant, Boris does realise that the economic interests of Britain are helped if we have free access to the biggest open market in the world."

Of course Andy Burnham is not the only high-profile Labour figure who has jumped on the anti-immigration bandwagon recently, adding to the confusion over what Labour's policy actually is. As the BBC report, a few days ago Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones criticised his UK leader for having a 'London-centric' position on free movement.

Mr. Jones prefers to take a UKIP-light position on immigration to try and prevent his party's voters defecting to the real thing, putting electoral advantage above principle. However, if people are deserting Labour in working class areas it is because they have been neglected by the party over many issues, not just a single matter like freedom of movement.

Concerns about immigration often go hand-in-hand with an economic downturn, when people feel that their jobs are under-pressure, and see the impact on public services of austerity measures and spending cuts. The best way to deal with those concerns is to tackle the issues that are causing them, not jump on a popularist bandwagon.

The danger of Carwyn Jones' and Andy Burnham's stance is that they will actually drive people to UKIP by trying to create a pale imitation of Farage's party for their own electoral purposes.

People can see through insincerity and electoral opportunism. They tend to judge politicians on their record and on their principles. There is nothing principled about this sudden conversion to immigration controls by these senior Labour figures.
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