Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

The ugly, cynical EU immigration debate

Tristram Hunt, Shadow Education Secretary, is an intelligent and articulate individual but like everyone in politics, has the handicap of having to square his views with the record and policies of his own party. His interesting interview with the Fabian Review is a case in point. He attributes some of the education failures of white boys — the new educational underclass — in British schools to the influx of large numbers of East European immigrants in areas like Kent and East Anglia. His remedy for the problem is benign, namely, to educate indigenous youth to the standards needed by employers, so as to outflank the competition, and to focus on vocational skills in a way that Labour didn’t do in power. So far, so dandy.

He acknowledges too that in power Labour didn’t anticipate the scale of the influx from Poland after the EU expansion to the east. (Well quite so: at the time, I tried to put a bet about the likely scale of arrivals with the Home Office spokesman who told me that the numbers coming would be in the order of 10,000; he wouldn’t, alas.)

But what’s interesting is that in order to outline the potential disadvantages of immigration from Eastern Europe, he has to demonstrate his essential inclusivity by squaring the policy with Labour’s traditional immigrant constituency. Take this quote: ‘I’m influenced by my time as MP for Stoke on Trent. I remember talking to a young, second-generation Pakistani British lad who was concerned about the speed on change in the community as a result of the failure to introduce control-led immigration from the EU accession states last time.’

Yes, the speed of the influx was unsettling all round, including to a previous generation of immigrants. But it’s a curious device, to make his argument palatable by expressing it via a ‘second generation Pakistani British lad’ rather than, say, a white Brit. Because

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