"If the Tories try to whip up anti-migrant sentiment, this Labour leadership will push back hard," writes the Shadow Home Secretary on the eve of Labour party conference.
Politicians and political pundits can sometimes be like generals, fully prepared to fight the last war. It is possible to miss profound changes that are taking place in society. One of those changes has been taking place for some time; the public attitude to immigration.
The chart below is taken from the BBC’s ‘Crossing divides’ series and was published earlier this year. It shows the enormous shift that has taken place in this country in attitudes to immigration.
Of course, it could go further. But it is deeply gratifying to those of us who have long campaigned against the weaponisation of immigration, used as a proxy for anti-foreigner and racist sentiment.
There are many aspects of this change which bear examination. But, as a general election approaches it is important to register the directly political one.
Will the cabal around Boris Johnson repeat the disgraceful Tory 2017 election campaign, with their ‘Go Home’ vans, mobile posters with my face on the side?
The early indications are that the new Trump-style Tory party is inclined to repeat this grotesque campaign. They initially promised to ‘end Freedom of Movement on Brexit day’, until government lawyers said it would be illegal. So, instead, they say they intend to make EU citizens go through different channels at the airports and ports. It’s petty and vindictive, designed to win approving headlines in some of the tabloids.
Crucially, the evidence suggests this is not a winning strategy. By 2017 the country was evenly divided over the impact of immigration, as the chart shows. Now, there is a net 22% of voters who take a favourable view of immigration.
If the Tories try to whip up anti-migrant sentiment, this Labour leadership will push back hard. We are not going to squander our progressive immigration policies.
As our first priority, we have committed to honouring all our moral and legal obligations to the Windrush generation and to the EU 3 Million. We will end the hostile environment, repeal the 2014 Immigration Act and compensate the victims properly. The current inhumane system of immigration detention will go. We will also uphold the existing rights of EU citizens, who arrived here under Freedom of Movement provisions.
Beyond that, and whatever the Brexit outcome, we will continue to need migration to fill both skills gaps and labour shortages. We will welcome people who are helping us to do that and their families, and we refuse to treat them as second-class citizens.
The Tories will also be trying win on this issue with minority support, barely a quarter of voters are hostile to immigration now. On this issue, and with our progressive policies, we will have the majority on our side.
Diane Abbott is Shadow Home Secretary and MP for Hackney North & Stoke Newington.
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