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‘Let’s talk about immigration, it’s a vote winner for Labour’ says Liam Byrne

‘Let’s talk about immigration, it’s a vote winner for Labour’ says Liam Byrne

🕔17.Oct 2014

Labour should place plans for stronger immigration controls at the heart of its General Election campaign strategy, Birmingham Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne has insisted.

Mr Byrne said the party had no reason to be afraid of talking about managing immigration and he believed the issue could be a vote winner.

He added: “People want to hear more from Labour about issues like immigration. And our policy is actually in the right place on immigration, because it’s very easy to win an argument about immigration on the doorstep.

“I think we can quite safely put it higher up the list of things that we prioritise in some of our messaging.

“Labour is in the right place on the argument; people want us to make a bit more noise about it. It is a vote winner, no question.”

Mr Byrne, who is the shadow higher education minister, set out his views in an interview with the House Magazine: “You need to talk about stronger controls, you need to talk about the obligations on people who want to make Britain their home, and third, you make a tougher argument about enforcing the rules on employers who try and use immigration to undercut British workers.”

The MP represents one of the most ethnically diverse constituencies in the country and can expect a tough challenge from Ukip at the 2015 General Election. Mr Byrne will be defending a comfortable 10,000-vote majority, but will also be acutely aware that the hard-right in the shape of Ukip and the BNP took a combined 7.2 per cent of the Hodge Hill vote in 2010.

Ukip came close to winning the Hodge Hill ward at the Birmingham city council elections this year.

After conducting widespread consultation with his constituents, Mr Byrne said he came to the conclusion that “Britons of all races” tended to agree that a new approach to immigration is required.

He added: “What’s interesting is that this is not one group of voters who think this, but all voters. I serve one of the most diverse communities in Britain, and all of our work revealed how people from all backgrounds are basically in the same place on this.

“The Pakistani, Somali, Bangladeshi communities as well as the white working-class community basically all said the same thing. This is not an issue that Labour needs to be afraid of. This is not a divisive issue; this is an issue around which we can build common cause for the future.”

“People in this country respect hard work, and they respect people who want to work hard and advance their families and in so doing build a better, stronger country. And so people recognise that instinct in people who’ve moved hundreds or thousands of miles to build a better life. We respect hard work and enterprise and energy in this country.

“People want a realistic conversation; people are sophisticated on this question and I’ve known that from my days as Immigration Minister. Actually, many of the immigration reforms I drove through – bringing in a points system, developing earned citizenship, creating the UK Border Agency – these were ideas not made up by me; they drew heavily on the conversations I had had in the multi-ethnic community that is my constituency.

“There’s a new consensus in Britain about immigration reform; Labour needs to be the standard-bearer for that consensus. It’s an issue on which Labour can win and on which Labour needs to be self-confident, and it’s an issue which people expect political leaders to lead a conversation on.”

In the same interview Mr Byrne reaffirmed his view that student fees should be replaced by a graduate tax. But he accepted the idea is not yet party policy.

He said Labour’s plans for university funding would be “nailed down” in time for the election manifesto.

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