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An unpleasant and wholly unjustified accusation
21/11/2012 09:41:00

As readers of this blog will know, I have been spending some of my time over the last few weeks running the Conservative campaign for the Croydon North by-election. Our campaign has six key messages:

• First, that our candidate Andy Stranack is the right person to replace Malcolm Wicks – he is the only one of the main party candidates who is local; he has a clear record of working for the local community; and the election of someone with cerebral palsy would be an important step in having a more representative Parliament.

• Second, that Andy is on the side of ordinary working people and pensioners who have worked hard all their lives – he supports the increase in the personal allowance that has halved the income tax paid by someone working full time for the minimum wage; the introduction of a cap on the amount of benefits an out-of-work family can receive so that no-one gets more than the average family earns; and the biggest ever increase in the state pension.

• Third, that he has a tough but intelligent plan to cut crime in Croydon North.

• Fourth, that he will focus on getting people into work, both by bringing more jobs to Croydon and improving help for those out of work.

• Fifth, that all schools should be as good as our best - over 70% of kids who receive free school meals at Harris South Norwood for example get five good GCSEs including maths and English: why do some other secondary schools not achieve that level?

• And finally, that we need to see improvements to the Accident & Emergency Department and Maternity Unit at our local hospital.

One issue that we have barely mentioned is immigration. There is a passing reference to it on Andy’s website and in one of our leaflets where, in an article about the need to create more jobs, he points out that the Coalition Government “inherited an economy based on banking, immigration and debt”.

I thought this was an uncontroversial statement of where the last Government went wrong. After all, many sensible people in the Labour Party accept that there was too much reliance on the City of London; that borrowing was too high before the recession so that when the Government did then need to borrow money we ended up with the highest deficit in the developed world; and that net migration was too high.

But it seems that the hard left in Croydon Labour Party haven’t got the message. Addiscombe councillor Sean Fitzsimmons started the ball rolling by making the reasonable point that if you read what Andy said literally you could interpret it to mean that we were against all immigration (and all banking and all borrowing). I thought it was pretty clear that what he was talking about was an over-reliance on these things, but I agreed to ask Andy to change the wording to “We inherited an economy reliant on banking, high levels of net migration and debt” to remove any doubt. Sean said he “wasn’t accusing Andy of any ill intent”. Case closed, or so I thought.

Sean then said that many Croydon North residents are immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants and wouldn’t agree with our critique of the last Government’s policy. In my experience, people of all ethnic backgrounds agree that net migration has been too high in recent years and I replied:

“More Croydon North residents would have jobs if you [the last Labour Government]’d had a better immigration policy eg accession controls on new EU members”.

Andrew Fisher (a local resident and joint National Secretary of the hard Left Labour Representation Committee) then joined in, accusing me of playing the race card – an accusation which Sean, who had previously said he wasn’t accusing us of any ill intent, and the unpleasant Labour attack site Inside Croydon both repeated.

This is a classic tactic of some on the left when it comes to immigration, where they know the public don’t agree with them: accuse your opponents of racism to try to scare them off raising the issue.

As someone who is a passionate believer in the benefits that immigration – properly managed – can bring (see for example my recent speech in opposition to Migration Watch’s proposals), someone who has campaigned actively against the BNP in New Addington, someone who has criticised the stance my party has taken on multiculturalism, I take particular offence at this accusation. I challenged Andrew on this and he replied that he wasn’t accusing me of being a racist, merely of being someone who is prepared to pander to racists. Classy.

I hope regular readers of this blog will feel that this accusation is beneath contempt and doesn’t warrant a response but for those who don’t know me here is a detailed rebuttal of what he has said.

First, let me be clear what I am saying. I am obviously not saying that the failure to apply accession controls when various countries joined the EU in 2004 – or the high levels of net migration in general during the last Government - are the sole, or even the main, cause of the high unemployment we see in Croydon North today, merely that they are a contributing factor.

Nor am I in any way blaming those who came to the UK during this period. They were doing what they thought was best for them and their families. Any of us would do the same in their position. My criticism is reserved for the last Government, whose policies were not in the national interest.

The specific example I gave was the failure to apply accession controls when Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus and Malta joined the EU in 2004. So I am being accused of playing the race card for saying that large-scale Eastern European immigration made it harder for the diverse population of Croydon North to find work – in other words, I am trying to stir up prejudice against white people. Bizarre.

Both Andrew and Sean asked me to supply evidence to support my claim. Between the first quarter of 2004 and the first quarter of 2008, the UK economy created just short of 1.1 million jobs but the number of people out of work increased by nearly 200,000. If you look at the number of people in work by country of birth, the number of people in work who were born in the UK actually decreased by about 10,000 – remember this is during a period of sustained economic growth – while the number of people born in the eight Eastern European countries that joined the EU increased from 64,000 to 510,000. Now you have to be careful with these figures - some of the jobs that were created wouldn’t have been created if we hadn’t had this immigration – but nonetheless it provides strong evidence that the influx of cheap labour made it harder for people already in the UK to find work.

Finally, if Andrew, Sean and Comical Ali at Inside Croydon are still not convinced, here’s what Ed Miliband had to say in his speech to this year’s Labour Party Conference:

“Immigration has really significant economic benefits but not when it is used to undercut workers already here and exploit people coming here. The last Labour government didn’t do enough to address these concerns”.

And here’s Ed Balls writing for The Observer back in June 2010:

“Free movement of goods and services works to our mutual advantage. But the free movement of labour is another matter entirely. There have been real economic gains from the arrival of young, hard-working migrants from eastern Europe over the past six years. But there has also been a direct impact on the wages, terms and conditions of too many people – in communities ill-prepared to deal with the reality of globalisation...It is important we are honest about what we got wrong. In retrospect, Britain should not have rejected transitional controls on migration from the first wave of new EU member states in 2004, which we were legally entitled to impose”.

I wonder if they accused either of them of playing the race card. No, didn’t think so.

All in all, an unpleasant accusation to have levelled at you but one that reveals just how far to the left of the national Labour Party the Croydon Labour Party is.

Comment on this blog


Readers' Comments

On 22/11/2012 21:25:00 Andrew Fisher wrote:
I accused you of playing the race card yes. And I still stand by that, but I'm glad you've clarified your earlier remarks:

"I am obviously not saying that the failure to apply accession controls when various countries joined the EU in 2004 – or the high levels of net migration in general during the last Government - are the sole, or even the main, cause of the high unemployment we see in Croydon North today, merely that they are a contributing factor."

Twitter is probably not the best medium for discussing a complex question like immigration - and in 140 characters you couldn't and didn't say what you have said above.

You quote Ed Miliband saying that Labour didn't do enough to address these concerns - I agree: what should have happened - and what still hasn't - is better regulation of the minimum wage, an extension of gangmaster licensing into other sectors like construction, and repeal of some of the anti-union laws brought in by Thatcher to help workers to organise and protect their rights at work. However, Ed didn't say that and though i don't think he's a racist either, in his speech he did pander to anti-immigrant sentiment - and sorry Gavin, but the "hard Left Labour Representation Committee" of which I am proud to be joint National Secretary did condemn Ed for that: http://l-r-c.org.uk/news/story/this-is-a-false-argument-john-mcdonnell-on-the-immigration-speech/ - so no hypocrisy here.

Anti-immigrant sentiment is strong among many communities - the division is not black vs white, but British-born vs migrants. So perhaps 'playing the race card' is an outdated phrase, but it's the same game - scapegoat the outsider.

On 30/11/2012 15:19:00 Jim wrote:
"Thatcher" was brilliant. Unions brought this country to its knees. "Ed" is a union man and it sounds like you are too. Given a chance, unions will do the same again.
On 03/12/2012 08:27:00 Philip Talmage wrote:
There's no need to worry, Gavin, about the stupids of the hard Left. They'll say anything, do anything they can, to bring about the socialist paradise - but, if anything, they play into the hands of the BNP.
On 03/12/2012 21:26:00 Gavin Barwell wrote:

I am glad to see that you are not partisan in who you target with wholly unjustified accusations.

I also notice that having asked me to produce evidence you conveniently ignored it.

And I repeat, I am not scapegoating anyone - my criticism is solely reserved for the last Government, not people who move here to provide a better life for them and their families.

Finally it was good to hear at the Question Time event at Trinity School the other night Labour councillors Stuart Collins and Carole Bonner acknowledge that the Labour Party got this one wrong. Clearly you and Sean are on the hard left of the Labour Party.




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