Yvette Cooper declared this week that Labour wouldn’t oppose the coalition’s immigration bill. On Twitter, meanwhile, Jonathan Portes, the director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, was arguing with the Conservative MP Stewart Jackson, who tweeted that the proportion of EU migrants to the UK who had never worked was 37%. Jackson’s figures were incorrect by a factor of over three.
These two episodes distil behaviour in the immigration debate: Labour thinks its electability rests on being more anti-immigrant than the Tories. It is impossible to win at this game, against a party whose strategy includes sending two vans around London that say “go home”. I do feel for Labour, always trying to follow the polls, wondering why the polls show ever more hostility to foreigners (maybe because political rhetoric does?), led by the nose into an arena it doesn’t have the right weapons for. Commands like “Get some backbone, please, for the love of God” will not help this frightened animal.
Portes has all the courage and data that the Labour party lacks, but it can’t escape observers of his work that he points out falsity all the time: from David Goodhart’s shocking analysis of Bradford’s special educational needs crisis (summary: it’s because Pakistanis all marry their cousins – except there isn’t a crisis, Bradford has 21% SEN, compared with a national average of 20%) to Douglas Carswell’s “tsunami of economic refugees fleeing the eurozone” (it’s a slight increase, but it’s not a tsunami), he takes on allcomers, and doesn’t stop until they’ve slunk away.