London Independent: "Tensions over immigration are bound to increase during the recession. They go beyond jobs: research for the Government has found that white working class people believe immigrants get unfair (preferential) treatment on housing and benefits."
Andrew Grice: The soundbite that haunts the PM
I don't think he meant it literally. But he was trying to send a signal.
Saturday, 31 January 2009London Independent
...It was too late. Mr Brown's original, stark message had stuck. If it was meant as a dog whistle, it failed – everyone heard it. Yesterday, it was certainly in the minds of the workers who staged wildcat strikes about construction jobs going to Italian and Polish workers. Their placards included: "In the wise words of Gordon Brown 'UK jobs for British workers'."
Tim Finch, head of migration, equalities and citizenship at the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank, said: "'British jobs for British workers' was a careless slogan that is coming back to haunt the Prime Minister." Denis MacShane, the former Europe minister, warned: "Nationalist-protectionist rhetoric always does lasting economic and social damage."
The line from Downing Street is that Mr Brown does not regret his language. He doesn't do regrets – or sorry. However, ministers were sufficiently worried by the refinery protests to call urgent talks to try to ensure a level playing field for British workers in the recession.
If Mr Cameron had announced a policy of "British jobs for British workers", Labour MPs would have queued up to accuse him of racism. No one is suggesting Mr Brown has a racist bone in his body. But he was playing with fire and has been burnt.
Mr Cameron chooses his words on immigration carefully. The Tories' previous hardline rhetoric delighted traditional supporters but alienated others, contributing to their "nasty party" image. In fact, Mr Cameron hasn't changed his party's policies much. It is still committed to a cap (as yet undefined) on the number of immigrants coming to Britain from outside the EU. To try to reassure voters, Labour hints its "points system" for skilled workers amounts to the same thing, but does not support a cap.
Tensions over immigration are bound to increase during the recession. They go beyond jobs: research for the Government has found that white working class people believe immigrants get unfair (preferential) treatment on housing and benefits. Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, warns that such fears, however unfounded, should not be branded "racist", since that alienates people even more. The fears could hurt Labour at the general election.
Recently, Mr Brown has cooled on his "Britishness" agenda as he puts his energies into limiting the downturn. Unfortunately for him, the damage had already been done...more