One striking feature of the Labour leadership contest so far is how a new more honest line on immigration is emerging. At the Fabian Society conference this morning, Ed Miliband declared that ‘immigration is a class issue’. Pointing out that, “If you want to employ a builder it’s good to have people you can take on at lower cost, but if you are a builder it feels like a threat to your livelihood. And we never had an answer for the people who were worried about it." In the Guardian, Ed Balls sounds a similar note. He tells Patrick Wintour and Nick Watt that Labour did not, in the eyes of voters, do enough on immigration.
But there has been one figure in the Labour party who has been pointing out that immigration is a ‘class issue’ for years’ and warning that Labour’s failure to address it was costing it the support of the white working class: Jon Cruddas. If you go to Cruddas’ constituency of Dagenham and Rainham and talk to people there, you find out just how much of a sense of dislocation and alienation has been produced among the old Labour core vote by the immigration levels of recent years.
In an interview with Propsect, Cruddas talks about how you can reweave the social fabric. He mentions one really interesting project, Eyesore Gardens. The idea behind this is that front gardens that have been turned into dumping grounds for furniture or building rubble destroy peoples’ sense of pride in their neighbourhood, their sense of attachment to place. So, what they are doing in Dagenham is placing an obligation on people to keep their front gardens tidy. If you don’t, the council will come and clean it up—and bill you for it.
It might seem a small example. But on a trip to Dagenham a few months back, I was struck by the difference between the neighbourhoods where the scheme was operating and those were it wasn’t. Strikingly, most people change their behavior voluntarily; suggesting that there is an appetite for a community out there.