Bill Carmichael: Sheer cheek on immigration

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2014 is only a few days old and I think we already have an undisputed winner in our Brass Neck of the Year Award.

Step forward Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, who this week criticised the Government for failing to protect British workers whose jobs may be threatened by migrants from Eastern Europe as restrictions on the movement of Romanians and Bulgarians to live and work anywhere in the EU come to an end.

On her blog, the Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford MP demanded action “to stop immigration being abused and exploited as a source of cheap labour to undercut wages and jobs”. Given Labour’s record on immigration when it was in power – and Miss Cooper was a member of the Cabinet – the barefaced cheek of this statement is simply breathtaking.

What she lacks in terms of political consistency she more than makes up for in shameless chutzpah. For let us never forget that it was Miss Cooper and her fellow Ministers who threw open Britain’s borders to unfettered immigration during the last Labour government.

Even under EU law there was no need to do this. Indeed most EU countries, including France and Germany, imposed restrictions on immigrants from 10 Eastern European countries when they joined the EU in 2004. But Britain under Labour decided to admit all-comers. Miss Cooper’s Cabinet colleague Lord Mandelson admitted Labour sent out “search parties” for immigrants to persuade them to come to the UK.

The impact was to slash wages of the poorest paid – Labour’s most reliable supporters – precisely the issue Miss Cooper is bleating about now.

Although it was never acknowledged at the time, Labour set out to fundamentally transform British society without the consent of the people and to “rub our noses” in diversity, as one senior government adviser later admitted.

The Labour government confidently predicted that 13,000 people a year would come to the UK from Poland and other new EU countries. The true figure was somewhere north of a million, putting huge pressure on housing, schools and the health service. Yet anyone who raised concerns about the impact this policy was having on working class communities was smeared by Labour as a bigot and a racist.

At least Miss Cooper’s colleagues Jack Straw and David Blunkett have seen the errors of their ways, with Mr Straw admitting Labour’s open door policy was a “spectacular mistake” and Mr Blunkett warning of an “explosion” on the streets because of the scale of immigration that Labour unleashed. Miss Cooper in contrast simply tries to pretend the recent past didn’t happen. She must think we are all as daft as the voters of Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford.

‘Boris’ of the North

According to a report from the IPPR think-tank released this week, the North needs our own version of Boris Johnson to secure the powers and funding it needs to close the economic gap with the prosperous South-East.

The authors argue that Yorkshire needs to work with its neighbours to speak with a single voice in the corridors of power to match the clout of the London mayor.

Great idea, but the problem is that Boris is a bit of a one-off and it is hard to think of anyone from the North with the same combination of humour, bluster and shrewd political calculation. It would need to be a big-hitter with good connections and the ability to co-operate with civil servants and bureaucrats. He or she would also need to work with the left-leaning big city councils while retaining the respect of the business community. All in all a bit of a tall order. I’ve wracked my brains and only one name suggests itself. Could David Blunkett be persuaded to take on one more big job before retirement?