When Blue Labour talks about immigration as a way to reconnect with Labour’s core voters, they are very clever in skirting the real issue. They prefer the Phil Woolas style of competing with the far right. They avoid getting into the argument of immigration being used to hold down wages. If they did then they would get dragged into the pros and cons of the ‘free movement of labour’ in the EU, something I suspect they would rather avoid.
Not sure? Let’s see what our own Delphic Oracle, Gillian Duffy had to say to Gordon Brown.
“You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying that you’re … but all these eastern European what are coming in, where are they flocking from?”
Many in the working class, both white and from other ethnic groups, would have some sympathy with Mrs. Duffy. This is because immigration was used quite cynically to build growth on the back of low wages. While rest of the world immigration may have supplied the London-centric political and business class with cheap maids, tarts, toy-boys and restaurant staff, from the EU immigration did something far worse for the skilled working class. It drove down skilled and semi-skilled wage levels to minimum wage levels. Every electrician, plumber and bus driver coming in from the likes of Poland was giving the British working class the same feeling of being under attack that we must have given German workers on a much lesser scale during the Thatcher years. Yes that’s right, the Auf Wiedersehen, Pet years.
You see, what Blue Labour will not want to remind us of is that the European Union was never an act of faith inside the party. I certainly remember campaigning against it alongside many Labour people before the 1975 referendum. Not that I think it’s something we could easily walk away from, but that shouldn’t blind us to things done in the EU’s name which are basically pro neo-liberal policies. That’s why anti-EU right-wing Tories like Daniel Hannan will sing the praises of free movement of labour inside the EU.
So is the only answer to walk away from the EU in order to cut off Mrs. Duffy’s hordes of East Europeans? Actually no. A principled way would be to set minimum wage levels for certain skilled and semi-skilled jobs, much as how the skilled unions used to do it. The Joint Industrial Board in the building trade for example used to do this for electricians with negotiations between the old ETU and the employers. If we did this again at least Poles would not be employed just because they are cheaper as they would get paid the same new increased rate as British electricians. Maybe even some of young apprentices would be learning how to be a sparks or a plumber rather than how to serve hamburgers at McDonalds.
But this isn’t what Blue Labour is all about. They attach themselves to policies they think may garner votes, not policies they believe in or think are right. How long before their law and order plans include the return of capital punishment I wonder? All Blue Labour really shows is the cynicism of our new political class.