#GE2017: Why does Labour make concessions to the right when it comes to immigration?

Jonas Liston reflects on Angela Rayner’s recent appearance on Question Time. How can she be awful on immigration whilst savaging the Tories on everything else?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons. Angela Rayner at the 2016 Labour Party conference

For what it’s worth, I thought Angela Rayner was fantastic on Question Time last night. It’s always brilliant watching a working-class woman repeatedly stick it to the Tories on live television. Always.

That said, I disagree with her on immigration. I’m not convinced migration drives down wages or that it is a burden on welfare & housing. The overwhelming pool of data points to employers driving down wages and cuts putting more pressure on public services.

Now for sure, there are all sorts of reasons she could be making those arguments.

She might agree with them for starters, that’s fair enough. It’s a classic argument on the Left that the social-democratic state should have control over a country’s supply of labour just as it has control over any other industry. I disagree with that, I think a truly radical politics is predicated on opposition to *all* immigration controls and an understanding of how capitalism – and particularly imperialism – forces people to leave their home countries. This, combined also with the battle to mercilessly regulate and stifle capital’s own freedoms. I think this is radical because it is universalistic, democratic and it asserts the agency of racialized workers and oppressed people’s to struggle, organise and win alongside and as part of a broader class movement.

Alternatively though, Rayner might be making the argument because she feels Labour needs to make some concessions on immigration to be seen as electorally credible and in touch with ‘people’s concerns’.

So, if it’s the first reason, fine. Let’s have that row in the movement. If it’s the latter, it doesn’t work. If we renege on principles, we end up demoralising our own ranks, we look dishonest and we abandon a crucial terrain upon which politics is being fought, leaving it to be defined by the Right.

And one more thing. The Left has an old slogan which goes something like ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’. We should stand by that principle anyway, but we should stand by it knowing full well that – from the Junior Doctors to the SOAS cleaners – some of the most combative struggles to have taken place in this country in the last five years have been led by migrant workers and have seen a convergence between anti-racism on the one hand, and class on the other.

We’d do good to factor this into our equations in the coming weeks and months. If not, it *will* come back to bite us.

Photo: Steve Eason. LSE cleaner’s strike – led by migrant workers

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