Yvette Cooper has just given a rather fine, bold speech on the refugee crisis. Some reading will disagree with her plea for Britain to take 10,000 refugees, rather than 200. But that’s part of the point: the Labour leadership contender has decided to take a stand on something, even if it annoys some. To be fair, it is probably an issue that Labour members will applaud her taking a stand on, rather than something that makes the party feel uncomfortable with, but it is much less like the ‘on-the-one-hand-this-and-the-other-that’ style of campaigning that Cooper has been criticised for at times during this contest.
The Shadow Home Secretary accused the government of ‘political cowardice that assumes British voters’ unease about immigration means they will not forgive anyone who calls for sanctuary’, and added that the current situation in which Britain has only accepted 200 refugees was ‘immoral, it’s cowardly and it’s not the British way’. Throughout her speech she argued that Britain had a proud history of helping those fleeing conflict and persecution, and closed by saying she was ‘asking us to do something we’ve done before. Something we will do again. To help those who need us. I’m asking Britain to be Britain’.
Cooper wants a national conference to work out how many refugees ‘from Syria and the Mediterranean Britain can take’, with 10,000 places being her suggestion:
‘Time to ask cities, towns, communities how much they each can do to help. If every city took 10 refugee families, if every London borough took 10 families, if every county council took 10 families, if Scotland, Wales and every English region played their part, then in a month we'd have nearly 10,000 more places for vulnerable refugees fleeing danger, seeking safety. 10,000 instead of 200.’
She also criticised the government for treating immigration and asylum as the same thing, a point she had already made in her response to last week’s net migration figures.
Why is Cooper doing this now? Well, there hasn’t been a particularly impressive response from the government to the migrant crisis over the summer, other than its regular announcements of ‘crackdowns’ that may not make much of a difference to people fleeing conflict. But Cooper could have given this speech earlier in the contest. Why hasn’t she?
I suspect this is because she has a habit, which her supporters all praise, of taking a little longer to reach the right decision about her stance on a policy and her method of pursuing that policy, rather than leaping aboard a bandwagon, only to leap back off when she finds it a little uncomfortable further down the road. When I asked one former minister why he was supporting Cooper, his first answer was ‘because the extra 30 seconds she takes to make a decision that she sticks with makes her a better breed of politician’. The extra 30 seconds she has taken here certainly makes her a bolder breed of politician.