'We got it wrong on immigration' Miliband admits

Wrong on immigration: Ed Miliband has reffered to the topic as a 'class issue'. Photo: www.politicalpictures.co.uk
Wrong on immigration: Ed Miliband has reffered to the topic as a 'class issue'. Photo: www.politicalpictures.co.uk

By Ian Dunt

Labour failed to recognise the impact of immigration on the public during its time in office, Ed Miliband has admitted.

The Labour leader said that by underestimating the way people felt about immigration his party lost support.

"I think the problem is that we lost trust and we lost touch particularly in the south of England," he told the BBC ahead of next month's local elections.

"I think living standards is a big part of it, immigration is a big part of it. I think maybe a combination of those two issues - most importantly."

The remarks constitute the first solid acknowledgement from the party leadership that the immigration issue contributed to Labour's decline in the polls.

When he was campaigning to become Labour leader Mr Miliband gave a speech insisting that immigration could only be comprehended as a class issue. The use of Labour terminology to offer an assessment of a traditionally right-wing issue was praised by many observers.

Former Labour speechwriter Lord Glasman recently said that there had been a "massive rupture of trust" because of Labour's underestimation of the extent of immigration in the early years of its administration.

"I don't think we lied but I do think we got it wrong in a number of respects," Mr Miliband said.

"I think that, first of all, we clearly underestimated the number of people coming in from Poland and that had more of an effect therefore than we would otherwise have thought.

"And secondly, I think there is this really important issue about people coming into the country and the pressure on people's wages.

"People are not prejudiced but people say to me 'look I am worried about the pressure on my wages of people coming into this country. I am worried about what it does to housing supply.' All of those issues," he continued.

"Now some of that is real and some of it is not but I think you have to address not just tough immigration policy but underlying issues as well."

Immigration minister Damian Green said the Labour leader's apology would "ring hollow" with voters.

"As long as they oppose every government measure to bring down immigration, Ed Miliband will have no credibility at all," he said.

Immigration has dropped down voters' list of concerns since the economy entered recession and many eastern Europeans returned home, but a recent speech by David Cameron proved that it remains a volatile and emotive subject.

Branded "unwise" by business secretary Vince Cable, the speech saw the prime minister insist that the aim of reducing net migration down to the "tens of thousands" was coalition policy, only to retreat on that argument days later.

The "tens of thousands" figure was an ambition rather than a policy commitment, the prime minister insisted.


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