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How should Labour respond to the immigration and jobs debate?

Authors: The Work Foundation Don Flynn, Migrants' Rights Network

28 September 2012

The Labour Party conference will convene in Manchester this week encouraged by its consistent lead in the opinion polls and the sense that it just might be on course to win the general election in 2015.

But freewheeling towards the finishing line is not an option for a party which still has a trust deficit amongst many voters who in the past would have seen themselves as solidly Labour. Immigration is definitely one issue where the party needs to work hard to establish a credible position before the election.

A lot of the tussling between the various political positions concerns the role immigration plays in the economy. People on the negative side of the argument say it pushes down on wages and discourages investment aimed at raising productivity. Immigration optimists say that, on the contrary, it allows businesses to survive that would otherwise have gone under, and that many of these will raise their game even further as the best and fittest move from the ranks of the small to those of the medium sized enterprises.

The broad consensus at the present time generally supports the view that the economic impact of migration is positive in terms of overall GDP, albeit small when the figure is considered on a per capita basis. And here lies the conundrum Labour will have to address in the coming period: how can the party build a progressive consensus around the role migration plays in supporting growth, and how can it ensure the benefits are shared more directly with all citizens?

This is the theme we’ll be exploring at a fringe meeting at the Manchester conference organised by The Work Foundation and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration in association with Universities UK and the Barrow Cadbury Trust. Asking how Labour should respond to the immigration and jobs debate, the panel of speakers will offer a range of perspectives, all of which we can expect to emerge in the public debate as we move towards polling day in 2015.

The range of issues that will need to be reconciled in a progressive Labour immigration policy will be considered by the three MPs on the panel. Jack Dromey, the chair of the All-Party Group, will bring his decades of experience as a trades unionist into considering what must be done to ensure immigration is not used as a means to ramp up labour exploitation and drive down wages.

Paul Blomfield, the party’s shadow spokesperson on business, will be setting out his expectations of the role immigration will play in supporting the economic growth that will be the single most important part of Labour’s programme to get back into government in 2015. Chris Bryant, the shadow immigration minister, can be expected to build on the reflections Ed Milliband set out in his first speech on this issue back in June.

Other panel speakers will inject thoughts and experiences from outside the Parliamentary tent. Dr Neil Lee of The Work Foundation will at look the macro economic picture and ask what features are needed to ensure immigration policy not only supports growth but also the goals of social justice and greater equality in the field of jobs and skills.

Don Flynn of the Migrants’ Rights Network will inject into this discussion a sense of what migrants themselves want from the policies that affect their access to security on matters of residence and employment, and will emphasise the pressing need that all reasonable expectations in this area are accommodated within a progressive approach to policy.

The event will be chaired by Chris Wimpress of the Huffington Post UK. It is open to anyone interested in this debate, with further details on how to register available at:

Don Flynn is director of the Migrants' Rights Network

Meeting details:

How should Labour respond to the immigration and jobs debate?

Date: Monday, 1st October, 2012
Time: 18:00 - 19:30
Venue: Meeting Room 1, Hilton Hotel, Manchester

This meeting will be outside the security zone and so attendees will not require a security pass.