Immigration - Labour's opportunity?
A couple of us had a meeting with Chris Bryant last week to express our concerns over the family Immigration Rule changes looming in Theresa May's plans. Chris, as readers of this website will know, is the shadow Immigration Minister. He says he is vehemently opposed to the idea of putting a high income as a requirement for spousal immigration. I’d go so far as to say he’s quite indignant at the idea a rich person can go travelling fall in love and marry and bring their spouse home, but a typical constituent he represents (in the far from wealthy) Rhondda will not be able to do so. Chris is an intelligent and articulate man, cut from the cloth of the very modern politician, he plays with a very straight bat when it comes to discussing immigration.
Curiously, Chris’ alternative to hikes in the earning threshold and probationary period would be to introduce a bond to ensure fair play. The bond would be a payment of, say, £10,000 repayable after a period of perhaps 5 years for a UK citizen wishing to bring in their spouse to live in the UK. Once more this favours the rich over the poor and such an idea does not sit comfortably with those of us wanting a fair immigration system. Bonds, he said, are not Labour party policy - there was no actual existing policy outlined in our meeting. We are hoping to have some influence on the policy making process – through briefings, meetings and lobbying decision makers in the Labour Party.
Labour, as a party that has traditionally spoken for the less wealthy in society is the natural party to oppose laws that favour rich over poor. We do not yet know what these rules contain exactly, but leaked discussions between the two parties of government tend towards quite draconian measures being introduced. However, there was no indication as to any official Labour position on the proposals.
Chris told us he doesn’t want to see his Party enter into a ‘Dutch auction’ on immigration at election time, but widespread within Labour is a sense that immigration helped to lose votes in 2010. This has led to there being little effective opposition on immigration. Recently, with Labour in office, the opposition (and pretty well thought out opposition) came from the Liberal Democrats, but that is now a hazy memory.
Labour, like many pundits and analysts fully expect the Coalition to fail in its quest to cut net immigration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. It will fail because it has no control over so many factors within the equation, specifically EU immigration and emigration. The problem is that in the hopeless struggle to achieve this mythical target, the Coalition Government are willing to sacrifice human rights, invoke discrimination and stoke widespread hardship and heartache in the quest to be seen to be doing something.
Labour are uniquely positioned to take a principled stand in the immigration debate at this juncture. For a party that stands for a fair and managed immigration system, this should be seen as a fantastic opportunity to promote an informed and intelligent debate around the issue. The numbers affected by any new Rules will be relatively small, the hardships and heartache experience by those few will be considerable. We are approaching Chris and others in the Labour Party (and, it must be added, some from the back benches of the ruling parties) to formally oppose these Rules if they reflect the proposals in the recent consultation paper, and the report by MAC.
Whatever happens around the new Rules, the issue of immigration will doubtless continue to unnerve politicians. We hope to be able to strengthen the political resolve to have a honest debate, not dominated by tabloid headlines, but informed by research and actual living case studies.
We will endeavour to brief Chris in his role as shadow Immigration Minister. We will share with him our analysis, briefings and opinions. We hope he will be receptive to our ideas and exercise a truly open dialogue before dedicating Labour to a policy direction indiscernible from the other political mainstream parties.
In the run up to the new Rules being laid before Parliament, we are seeking to draw up a dossier of case studies of people in differing situations potentially affected by the rules. If you have such a case study or know of someone who’s story might help us, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org anonymity and confidentiality is guaranteed.
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