Immigration has always been a difficult subject for the two main political parties.
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Who will ever forget the hapless Gordon Brown’s comments about that “bigoted woman” Gillian Duffy during the last election?
As for the Conservatives, ever since Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech, they are accused of racism almost every time they raise the issue.
Ed Miliband, however, has decided to tackle the subject head on, and has admitted that Labour got it wrong in 2004 by not setting a limit on the number of people coming to Britain to work from the countries of Eastern Europe, which had just joined the European Union.
In a speech in central London, the Labour leader also admitted that his party had lost touch with the concerns of the British people.
He said: “Worrying about immigration, talking about immigration, thinking about immigration, does not make them bigots.
“They’re anxious about the future. And since this conversation is going on in the houses, streets and neighbourhoods of Britain, it must be a conversation that the Labour Party joins too.
“Our party seeks to be more rooted in peoples’ lives than any other party, therefore we must listen to those anxieties and speak directly and candidly to them in return.”
Mr Miliband believes immigration has brought huge benefits to Britain, but at a cost: The pressures on schools, hospitals and housing, pressures which he says Labour failed to recognise.
He said: “Quite simply, we became too disconnected from the concerns of working people.
“We too easily assumed those who worried about immigration were stuck in the past. Unrealistic about how things could be different, even prejudiced.
“But Britain was experiencing the largest peacetime migration in recent history, and people’s concerns were genuine.”
He said Labour didn’t listen because they were dazzled by the benefits of globalisation, but will listen in future.
If Labour is in power when countries like Croatia or Turkey join the EU, there will be a seven year limit on people from those countries coming here to work.
He also wants tighter border controls and greater enforcement of the National Minimum Wage, raising the fines for contravention from £5,000 to at least £10,000 to stop employers bringing in workers from abroad as cheap labour.
Mr Miliband also wants recruitment agencies to stop finding jobs exclusively for migrant workers and he wants more companies to follow the good example set by Rolls Royce, Dixons and Morrisons, which train British workers rather than recruit from abroad.
This will require a change of commercial culture, but, in a swipe at his former boss Gordon Brown, said he was not advocating “British jobs for British workers.”
He said: “The ready supply of temporary, low wage, low skill migrant labour has further pushed some businesses to take a short-term, low skill approach, and it has discouraged too many firms from training and developing their own workers.
“There is nothing wrong with anyone employing Polish builders, a French chef, or a Swedish childminder. I am not going to promise ‘British jobs for British workers’.
“But we need an economy which offers working people a fair crack of the whip. The problem we need to address is in those areas and sectors where local talent is locked out of opportunity.”
He pointed to the construction industry and the social care sector as being particularly bad.
While saying that he won’t make promises he can’t keep, Mr Miliband accused the Coalition government of doing just that.
He said: “The Conservative-led Government wants us to believe that their cap on non-EU migration will solve all the problems.
“It won’t. It can’t. It covers less than 3% of the total number of people who come into the country.
In 2011, 589,000 people arrived in Britain and the cap covers just 20,000. Their cap was supposed to bring net migration down, but it has not.
“They cannot possibly deliver their target of getting net migration down to the tens of thousands.”
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