Keir Starmer walks the right path in changing Labour’s stance on immigration |  Work

Keir Starmer walks the right path in changing Labour’s stance on immigration | Work

In his speech to a room full of business leaders, Keir Starmer came with the message that Labor had changed, hoping to sweep away the years of antipathy between his party under his previous leadership and executives hungry for growth.

But another shift in position was evident: on immigration, Starmer presented the recruitment of foreign workers as a band-aid solution to the problem of severe labor shortages in the UK.

While he said immigration was part of the UK’s ‘national story’ and that his party would never diminish the contribution it made to the economy, the tone was markedly different from where Starmer was running to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labor Party.

Speaking on January 31, 2020, the last day of Britain’s EU membership, Starmer insisted: “We must advocate for freedom of movement.

With Brexit in the rearview mirror but its complications continuing to plague politicians, Starmer is now walking a fine line.

He is reluctant to give any hint that he is ready to turn on the taps and allow thousands into the UK, while simultaneously trying to avoid upsetting Labor MPs who are overwhelmingly pro-migration.

This equivocation was perhaps most telling when he resisted whether or not migration should decline, arguing instead against setting “arbitrary numbers”.

The vow to wean corporations from their ‘immigration addiction’ has left Nigel Farage proclaiming that ‘Labour is now to the Conservatives’ right on immigration’.

Meanwhile, Starmer’s hint at a “potential move in our points-based migration system” was interpreted by Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s former co-chief of staff, as “signaling further liberalization of ‘an already too generous system’.

The Labor leader’s allies have said any fall in the number of immigrants will be a side effect of a focus on local skills, for example by enticing more carers to become nurses.

“We can’t just go from a skills deficit to a skills deficit, we have to take care of our own people,” said one MP.

Starmer’s supporters say his shift in stance on immigration is a response to significant changes since the spring of 2020 – post-Brexit and post-pandemic. But it is also true that public opinion on immigration has changed in a short time.

Half of the public has a positive opinion of immigration, up from a third in 2014, according to a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). The think tank found that, for the first time, most people with an opinion on the issue wanted immigration levels to stay the same or increase.

And far from being the hot topic of immigration ahead of the referendum, just 9% of respondents saw immigration as a top priority on average in 2022 so far, compared to 44% in 2015.

Labor could win the support of 5% of the public by signaling a more open approach to immigration while pushing back 2%, according to the IPPR’s voting behavior model focusing on voters most likely to switch parties.

Starmer’s speech was well received by business leaders. “He came as close to a standing ovation as possible from the CBI,” one businessman said.

Another leader contrasted Rishi Sunak’s “hissing” response to a question about recruiting migrant workers that focused entirely on people smuggling across the Channel, while praising Starmer for his “more measured” response.

In the end, neither Sunak nor Starmer assured the CBI that they would allow the number of foreign workers requested. The two leaders didn’t rule it out, but gave themselves plenty of wiggle room.

Given that Starmer has admitted the party could be crippled if it inherits a battered and bruised economy after the next election, he is likely to face accusations that his own growth spurt is being hampered by an aversion to quick fixes to labor shortages.

Tone matters as much as content. And some Labor voters may find it uncomfortable to hear their leader go from advocating free movement before his election to cracking down on migrants seeking a better life in less than three years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *