David Blackburn

From maladroit to managed

From maladroit to managed
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Labour has at last acknowledged the damage the BNP’s rise has caused them. Interviewed by Andrew Neil, Peter Hain admitted that government failure on housing and migration had heightened the BNP’s appeal, and, in an interview in this morning’s Independent, Alan Johnson elaborates on his claim that successive governments have been “maladroit” in handling immigration.

“Part of its (the BNP’s) attraction is that it is raising things that other political parties don't raise. It would take the absence of a national debate as the green light to distort the debate. It has absolutely no inhibition about lying about these issues."

Griffin’s and Brons’ victory proved that starving the BNP of publicity had palpably failed to arrest the party's rise, so Labour must change tactics. There is a definite need to debate immigration, not only to defeat the BNP but because the social and economic effects are no longer sustainable. But actions speak louder than words, and therein is Labour’s problem.

Like Hain, Johnson will not share a platform with Griffin to discuss the issue. Rather, Johnson will proclaim, from the comfort of a TV studio, that “immigration has been a good thing for this country – culturally, socially and certainly economically. We don't have an open-door policy. It is misleading to say we have got one or that we have ever had one. We manage immigration." The evidence for this is that net migration fell from 209,000 in 2007 to 118,000 in 2008 – Johnson says this proves that immigration is short term and expertly managed, I suspect that the recession’s demolition of opportunity, that forced cohorts of EU migrants home, is a more likely explanation. The government’s approach does not confront the issue that made the BNP popular – it is not enough to manage immigration and carry on as usual; it must be controlled.