‘’We venture to suggest that the British Government should, like foreign countries, the dominions and even some of the colonies, by legislation if necessary, control immigration in the political, social, economic and fiscal interest of out people.‘’
That was written in a letter to the then Prime Minister Clement Attlee, in June 1948, by a number of Labour party MP's concerned about mass migration towards the UK. Though their concerns were based on the possible clash between ethnic groups and general loss of social cohesion in the UK, it shows the left have not always been advocates for the idea of open borders.
In the modern world, migration towards the UK has taken a much darker turn than those MP's could have thought. On the 19th of August this Year, what was thought to be a 16-year-old Sudanese boy was found on Sangatte beach, having drowned in an attempt to get to the UK the night before. Although he was identified as Abdulfatah Hamdallah, a 28-year-old Sudanese man. This event sparked outrage from French ministers, declaring it was the UK's fault for this tragedy. The progressive left in UK have taken a similar attitude, calling for the government to open borders or provide safe and legal access to the UK, for people they say are refugees.
But that is where, I believe, the debate has gone all wrong. One side has decided to not acknowledge the fact that not the South-Sudanese civil war, Yemeni civil war, Syrian civil war or Libyan civil stretch all the way to Calais. Calais, and the area surrounding it, has never been a theatre of any of these wars. Therefore, the people there that are trying to get to the UK are economic migrants, not refugees.
But that fact, along with Abdulfatah’s identity, has not deterred the cultural left, in the UK and France, from demanding there to be a more open immigration system to allow these economic migrants into the country.
This seemingly goes against any attempt of the UK left, to re-connect with the ‘red-wall’ voters of post-industrial Britain. As those voters have, through the 4 years of electoral output, shown to value a controlled immigration system, even at the expense of national economic prospects. The British left need to understand is the concerns of people who live in insecure circumstances, and the way they feel regarding Migrant crossings from Calais to Dover.
Firstly, the left need to be made aware of the real nature of these crossings. One note that has rung true with the left, is the severe risk to life these crossing have on those taking them. This is partly due to the number of those travelling at a given time. The BBC reported that in one day in August 235 people travelled over to Dover in 17 ‘vessels’, and that one ‘vessel’ had 26 people in it. This along with the staggering figure of 3,948 people had travelled over in 300 boats in 2020 so far shows the sheer numbers of people attempting to come here , in very dangerous and overcrowded ways. Keep in mind these are successful crossings, in which the vice-president Auberge des Migrants (a human aids group based in Calais) stated that rate has increased from 60-80%. The BBC also reported on origins of the people crossing, being Iranian, Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Pakistani, Syrian, Yemeni, and Afghan.
There is also the aspect of Smuggling Gangs operating in the area, buying, and stealing boats and selling passage to migrants for fees of up to €1,500. One migrant recalls his experience ‘’The man picks us up in his van, takes us somewhere, we don’t know where, we get in a boat. I don’t even know if he bought it or stole it.’’
The operation of Gangs is unknown from the point the migrants get on the boat but one thing is clear, there is a lot of money to be made in this for little loss, especially if French authorities are incapable of dealing with boat thefts and crossings with the stress of Covid. Allowing for this operation to continue and possible expand into perverse activities in the UK.
This situation has called on more sympathy for the left in the UK, still bitter about the recent election defeat at Boris who has taken a turn away from his main predecessor, Cameron, who was pushed towards accepting 20,000 refugees in 2015 by political forces and instability in the small Conservative majority. Towards a firmer stance on the migrant crossings, or at least has shrugged the job to Priti Patel, in an effort to appear hard on immigration in an appeal towards their recently won voters. Unfortunately, through all the moral outrage and cries for Samaritan goodness from the left regarding this issue as well as immigration in general, will be lost to the right unless anything changes.
But as usual with Conservatives, they’ll deal with the trivial issues for poll figures, instead of dealing with underlying issues. The true of the matter is, the recent concerns about immigration in the last decade were rooted in a very real fear, the decaying standards for lower and semiskilled jobs. The Migration Observatory released a briefing in February. One heading reads ‘’ Immigration has small impact on average wages but the effects are not evenly distributed: low-waged workers are more likely to lose while medium and high-paid workers are more likely to gain’’. Under it are some interesting findings. ‘’As with the impacts on employment and unemployment, several studies have found that effects are different for high vs. low skilled/paid workers. For example, Dustmann et al (2013) find positive effects for most workers but negative effects for the lower paid; they found that a 1 percentage point increase in the ratio of migrants to non-migrants leads to a 0.6% decrease in wages for workers at the 5th earnings percentile and a 0.5% decrease at the 10th percentile. Another study focusing on wage effects at the occupational level found that, in the unskilled and semi-skilled service sector, a 1 percentage point rise in the share of migrants reduced average wages in that occupation by about 0.2% (Nickell and Salaheen 2015).’’
This is where the left need to come in to figure out how to deal with the decaying standards and wages of low skilled jobs. Whilst also paving out a clear, principled immigration policy that could attempt to satisfy all. The Labour Party under Keir Starmer however, is like an overweight octopus, its fat tentacles in various corners and holes, that the party has been entrapped by for many years, stopping the bulging body of the party breaking out. We see this over the infighting between various groups over the last years under Corbyn, Issues which have divided the party and above all made it un-electable.
Now throwing a spanner in the works of any recovery the party could have would be seen to be a bad idea. Starmer proposing a strict border policy for the party would certainly do that. Both the ageing Blairite, right of the party and the brand new, freshly packaged, Corbynites are united in their views on immigration, in the spirit of the words of former Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbot,‘’ I have no immigration target. Labour has no immigration target’’, Labour has pursued an attempt to change the narrative on immigration, instead of listening to concerns about immigration. These people are rooted in their holy than thou moral opinion of being the philanthropic Brits, giving the hand of charity to the poor, desolate refugee/migrant, this makes any tangible change in immigration policy for labour difficult. But on the other hand, is it not the Labour Party’s duty, to look out for the political, social, economic, and fiscal interest of the people. And therefore, should that duty not overrule any risk of inter-party disputes or splits?