Labour’s tougher stance on immigration comes at a cost

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Good morning from Edinburgh. If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard the word ‘1992’ from a Conservative or Labor politician over the past few weeks, I’d be very rich indeed.

For the Conservatives, John Major’s surprise victory – defying opinion polls that suggested a narrow victory for Labor – is a source of hope. For the Labor Party, this is the fear. Keir Starmer’s primary goal is to make history as Labour’s fourth general election winner. Part of this involves playing up Labor’s electoral weaknesses on immigration with tough rhetoric.

That position has a price among business leaders and the Liberals — but it also comes at a particular cost in Scotland. Below are some more thoughts on this.

Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenkb and please send rumours, thoughts and feedback to the address [email protected].

There is nothing to fear except Keir himself

The two biggest obstacles to Keir Starmer’s path to Downing Street, according to the Labor leadership, are voter concerns about the party’s instincts on Brexit (especially immigration) and economic policy (especially taxation and borrowing).

That’s why this paragraph from Daniel Thomas and Jim Pickard’s article about this year’s CBI conference throws Keir Starmer into action:

Although Starmer’s speech on Tuesday was generally better received by delegates than [Rishi] Sunak 24 hours earlier, they would have liked the leader of the Labor Party to have recognized the urgent need to address the short-term labor shortage.

Politically, Starmer wants nothing more than to be seen as the better choice by business, but he is essentially indistinguishable from the Conservatives when it comes to border controls and single market membership.

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I think Starmer is about there. In every election I’ve watched closely, in every focus group, and in virtually every poll, I hear the same doubts about labor and immigration. However, this political compulsion comes at a great cost from a political point of view.

It’s obvious to anyone who reads the hand-made signs that pop up in every shop window that the UK’s labor shortage goes far beyond the ‘high-skilled’ occupations that Starmer and Sunak both welcome in the UK. (For England, I can bore you with the fact that the concept of ‘unskilled’ work is bogus, but more on that another time.) As one senior Labor aide tells Jim and Daniel:

“It is very important for us to improve Britain’s productivity and the easiest way to do that is to join the EU and increase immigration – which business would like – but there is no way we can do that politically.”

Here in Scotland, however, it also comes at a political cost. Although his attitude towards Scottish immigration is essentially the same as them The attitude to Brexit in the rest of Britain is very different. John Curtice’s research for NatCen shows he opposes Brexit can serve as a bridge to support independence. This affects First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP more broadly attacking Labor on this issue.

Sturgeon has a vulnerability of her own here, of course among the third of pro-independence voters who supported independence in 2014 and Brexit in 2016. These voters were far more supportive of former First Minister Alex Salmond than they were of him. The SNP’s big vulnerability is that these voters simply won’t turn up at the next election if the SNP looks a little too leftist. But in the end, they may judge that this is a price worth paying to keep Labor in its box north of the border.

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Discretion is Villiers’ forte

What about Rishi Sunak’s own immigration rhetoric? While there are many similarities between Sun and Starmer, I think it is a mistake to see Sun’s position on migration as a political post. Yes, Suella Braverman’s selection as Home Secretary was a result of the political constraints and deals she had to make to get as many Tories on her side as possible.

But Sunak is also outspoken about immigration and his opposition to a closer relationship with EU immigration. An area where honestly there is limited by his party, however, he plans to reform. He postponed a vote on the matter after 47 Conservative MPs (enough to defeat the government’s majority) signed an amendment to overturn the government’s plans.

Sun’s biggest headache is that on essentially every economic issue, there is a conservative faction large enough to block any policy that might start growth.

This is one of the reasons why I think it is unlikely that he will be able to implement the far-reaching transformation that he hoped to implement if his political standing improved. The last thing he needs is to add to the number of sacked ministers who have turned Conservative backbenchers into unmanageable adversaries.

Try this now

One of the best things to do in Edinburgh is the city’s many bookshops, including bookstores Uploading and company (There are also branches in Ely, St Andrews and Bath). It’s happily open for browsing until 9pm. I picked up a copy of Colston Whitehead Harlem Shuffle. I hope it will be as good but not as depressing as Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys.

Top stories today

  • Brown note | The revision of the Labor Party’s constitution by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposes the banning of second positions for members of parliament, the strengthening of the electoral commission, and the further extension of decentralization to the English regions, as well as to the parliaments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

  • RMT union strike | The UK’s biggest transport union has announced four 48-hour strikes and a ban on overtime after talks with employers collapsed. The walkouts on December 13-14, 16-17, and January 3-4 and 6-7 are hopes for a solution to the actions that have been going on since June.

  • Treasury bails out BoE | The ministry had to bail out the central bank from its first losses in the quantitative easing program since 2009 due to interest rate hikes.

  • Behind the UK’s growth tracks | The UK economy is set to be the worst performer of the G20 in Russia over the next two years, the OECD said yesterday, underscoring the lingering impact of high energy prices on Europe as a whole.

  • “The weather is good” | UK Justice Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday defended the reintroduction of controversial human rights laws to parliament, saying it was time for “significant constitutional progress”.

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