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Anti-Migrant bill: PLP’s guilty silence

24th October 2013

Why is Labour silent on this viciously anti-migrant bill?

On the day the Home Secretary announced she was abandoning the Government’s racist “Go home” vans - trialed in Brent this summer to a huge public outcry - the Labour frontbench decided to sit on their hands in the vote on the second reading of the new Immigration Bill.

Just six Labour MPs voted against the bill. They were Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington), Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North), David Lammy (Tottenham), John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington), Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) and Dennis Skinner (Bolsover). Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn acted as teller for the noes.

Much of the Bill is probably unworkable and based on flawed data. Channel 4 News debunked the Government’s figure that foreign visitors cost the NHS £2 bn a year, pointing out the real cost was a fraction of this.

The Bill is poorly drafted and a response to tabloid and UKIP pressure. Its real purpose is to ensure that immigration stays on the agenda throughout the pre-election period.

As November’s Labour Briefing comments: ‘Labour will be embarrassed unless it changes its stance. Yvette Cooper described some of the measures as “sensible”.  But how “sensible” is it to stop “illegal migrants”, as she calls them, from opening bank accounts or getting driving licences, forcing everyone to produce complex paperwork to prove their right to exist? And how “sensible” is it to force every landlord in the country, including people taking in lodgers, families sub-letting to relative, and most hostels, to check new tenants’ documents? 

‘These proposals have been rejected, mocked and slated by housing professionals, landlord bodies, lawyers, children’s charities, local councils and tenant organisations. Instead of standing with them against the Tories, Yvette Cooper has run scared, ceding the argument and choosing to fight the election on a terrain she cannot win.’

Speaking in the parliamentary debate, Jeremy Corbyn MP described the Bill as “dog-whistle politics, the mantras being that every immigrant is an illegal immigrant who must somehow be condemned and that immigration is the cause of all the problems in our society.” He concluded: “If we descend into a UKIP-generated xenophobic campaign, it weakens and demeans all of us and our society, and we are all the losers for that.”

John McDonnell MP called the Bill “the most racist piece of legislation that this country has witnessed since the 1960s”, “aimed at setting up a regime of harassment for migrants.”

He commented: “The Tories believe that they can stack up votes at the next election by promoting this form of covert racism under the guise of immigration control. By campaigning to expose and oppose this racist Bill we can show them that people are not willing to be dragged into the gutter.”

The Labour front bench should listen to these principled voices.

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