From targeting slave masters to blaming the slaves; the nasty party is back

The nasty party is back and it’s turning up the volume


They say a week is a long time in politics. Two months is clearly a lifetime, but it was just two months ago that home secretary Theresa May said of the newly enacted Modern Slavery Act “it says to victims, you are not alone – we are here to help you.”

Now that’s scrapped. On Thursday, in his speech on immigration, the prime minister’s message couldn’t have been more different.

David Cameron promised to tackle immigration abuses that damage the UK labour market and pledged to punish undocumented workers with a series of measures to be set out in a new Immigration Bill in the Queens Speech.

To call these measures dangerous is an understatement. They vilify the exploited – many victims of modern slavery – and, even worse, will strengthen the hand of unscrupulous employers. The steps promised by David Cameron this week not only risk forcing undocumented workers into exploitative employment relationships – supposedly outlawed by Theresa May in the Modern Slavery Act – but will give abusive employers more weapons to theaten employees.

Modern slavery is the exploitation of people for their labour through deceptive or coercive means. It thrives on vulnerability, the ultimate triumph of power over powerlessness.

In the last parliament, the government rushed the Modern Slavery Act into law urging the importance of tackling this abhorrent crime. I and many others supported the Act, but raised concerns that it did not go far enough in preventing severe labour exploitation or protecting those who fall victim to such exploitation.

Despite serious reservations about the approach, all parties agreed on the ultimate goal to protect victims from abuses, to punish the traffickers who profit from exploitation and to make the UK a ‘world leader’ in the fight against ‘modern slavery’.

Hearing the prime minister yesterday makes the Modern Slavery Act seem like a distant memory, long since forgotten by this government. David Cameron laments the gangmasters who lure workers to the UK promising decent work and exacting exploitation, proposing a ‘labour market enforcement agency’ to crack down on ‘exploitation’.

In that he’s right, but the action will not target the slave masters who were prioritised just a couple of months ago; this time he’s blaming the victims who will pay for the abuses they have suffered on British soil. Their wages will be confiscated and then we’ll deport them. The nasty party is back and it’s turning up the volume.

All respected organisations working to address labour exploitation, including Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) on whose Board I sit, have condemned labour market deregulation measures that shift the balance of power from the worker to employers, and allow employers to exploit workers unchecked.

The previous coalition government’s bonfire of regulations and red tape achieved just that – abuse thrived with fewer labour inspections and less protection for workers. So concerned was the government’s own Migration Advisory Committee that it advised ‘the counter-balance to a flexible labour market is to ensure that employers comply with the minimum protections for workers and that these are enforced’ without which, it said, migrants would be exploited.

This is not just a question of human rights, although many of our international obligations will be contravened should this Bill become law; but it also cuts to the core of the ‘productivity puzzle’ outlined by the Bank of England. Cameron has not only forgotten his modern slavery commitments, he has also failed to learn the lesson of the last five years – a sustainable economic recovery will not be achieved by propping up bad business with weak outputs.

This Bill will make it simpler for poor business models to thrive, models which depend upon cheap and exploitable labour, in the understanding that in Cameron’s Britain exploitation pays.

The truth is undocumented workers are not stealing jobs from British workers; they are instead propping up failing business models across the UK. This week Cameron’s message to would-be exploiters was clear: Britain is open for business.

Paul Blomfield is Labour MP for Sheffield Central

33 Responses to “From targeting slave masters to blaming the slaves; the nasty party is back”

  1. AlanGiles

    Hello Steve. Firstly I would like to explain I am not right wing. I now support the Greens. I supported Labour from the time of Harold Wilson in the 60s until Blair turned New Labour into Blue Labour. I always felt Miliband would not succeed because he kept too many of the old guard in post, far too many Blairites who would have been unwilling to let him carry out his plans, had he been capable of formulating them.

    I feel expressions like “the nasty party” just sound trite and childish as does the constant going on about “fairness” without bothering to explain what is meant by that word, and talk about “toffs” when you have Tristram Julian Hunt and Keith Vaz, and Lady Jowell and Margaret Hodge trying to sound more like the Queen than she does.

    In my opinion Andy Burnham would be the best man to take the party forward and I hope Labour is not hoodwinked into believing that a return to Blairism would work in 2020. Labour learned nothing from the Conservatives, many of whom, right up until her death, thought that a return of Thatcherism was all the country needed. Life is just not that simple.

    It might be that by 2020 the country is as sick of the Tories as they were in 1997 – Labour would have regardless of leader then, so it is doubly unfortuante that the shifty warmonger Blair was the man who did it, since he turned the party into a paler blue Conservative party – why go for imitations when you can have the real thing?

  2. blarg1987

    Labour needs to go back to its core roots and principles, but also challenge the media more.

    When the Conservatives and media made a field day out of “Labour being held to ransom by the unions” I did nit see anyone reply with better to be a party that represents millions of people through elected members e.g. unions then a party based on policies by its donor.s

    Labour needs to point out the double standards of those who call it left wing or socialist by highlighting those same people benefited form those policies etc.

    It will annoy an awful lot of people to begin with however it will discourage those people from throwing stones in glass houses and maybe make people realise the good that such policies do have on society.

    But I do also agree with what AlanGiles says New Labour still does and should have retired the old guard of Blairism to the back benches after the 2010 election.

  3. stevep

    Thank you for your reply. I too have voted for Labour and the Green Party over the years. I think the Green party manifesto is much undervalued. I also feel the same way as you about New Labour and the 1997 election. I feel more of us should support and vote for a more radical alternative to the current right-wing miasmic ideology.

  4. stevep

    Yes I totally agree with you. The printed media has been largely very hostile to left-wing beliefs, but then it would be, wouldn`t it. I feel redress and the higher ground can be reclaimed by utilising the internet much more to bypass the mainstream media, which in any case, is dying a slow death. We just need to do it flexibly and quickly.

  5. blarg1987

    That is true, but have to step away from slogans like the nasty party and use LFF to ask politicians uncomfortable questions for example will the proposed reform of unions be extended to include PLC’s whereby remuneration packages can get voted through on very small turnouts etc

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