Labour’s attempt to jump on the anti-immigrant bandwagon has, the current Labour leadership is apparently complaining, been undermined by Tony Blair. In an interview for a Channel 4 programme on Thursday he defended the Labour government’s decision to immediately allow full free migration to Britain of workers from the countries which joined the EU in 2004 rather than delaying this for five years as they could have done.
The current Labour leadership (which includes some were ministers at the time) is saying that this was a mistake and Miliband is making one of his five key “pledges” (aka empty promises) to “control immigration by stopping new arrivals from claiming benefits for at least two years”. (He adds “and banning exploitative pay rates” as if all pay rates were not “exploitative” since if they weren’t capitalist firms wouldn’t make any profit). The irony (if that’s the right word in the circumstances) is that Miliband himself is the son of a migrant from the rest of Europe.
Blair’s reason for denying that it was a mistake was perfectly logical from a capitalist point of view. As reported in the Times (16 March), he “argued that, at the time of the decision, the UK economy was ‘booming’ and needed ‘skilled workers from abroad’.”
It was and it did. Unfortunately, despite Gordon Brown’s absurd boast to have ended once and for all the boom/slump cycle, the boom didn’t last and not so many workers from abroad were needed. Gordon Brown changed his tune and began talking about “British Jobs for British workers”. But he probably didn’t really believe that as he once recognised a bigot when he met one and was recorded as saying this in what he thought was private. The other leaders are probably the same. They don’t believe all this anti-immigrant stuff but fear that if they don’t give the impression that they do they’ll lose votes to UKIP.
Labour’s mistake was to assume that they were in control of the capitalist economy and could make a period of expansion continue indefinitely. But to admit that would be to admit that governments can’t control the way capitalism works and that would undermine the whole basis of their politics (and that of the other parties too).