Polls say Labour can win on immigration

A key barometer for assessing Labour’s future electoral success is how it scores in areas where the Conservatives often do best, such as the economy or crime. Everyone expects that Labour will have greater support on health and education – and it’s essential for our political future this remains steadfastly the case.

But where we win new ground on territory where our opponents often prevail, this can make the difference between a General Election victory or defeat. This fact explains why Labour has been policy focused and message disciplined to win over swing voters – and has played a big part in our current success at the polls.

Immigration is another of these barometer policy areas. Generally speaking, any progress on immigration is especially telling as it is traditionally a more difficult area for Labour. Any positive movement provides strong evidence that Labour’s strategy is working and cutting through to the key swing voters we need to win.

Labour’s leadership should have confidence their plans are working. The Tories have led a ferocious PR offensive this summer based around a failed ‘stop the boats’ pledge that has backfired spectacularly. It did not help their campaign that stop the boats week saw record numbers of new boats arrive with some earmarked to board a boat-to-nowhere Bibby Stockholm barge that was promptly abandoned. And that’s to say nothing of the extortionate costs to taxpayers, too.

Labour has maintained its steady, if small, lead in the polls. Coming out ahead after such attacks and unworkable gimmicks – especially on immigration – is exactly the place that we must be and from where we must grow further, as there will be much more to come during any general election campaign.

Thus far, the data is encouraging. The public have lost all confidence in the Tories on immigration. Only a paltry 7% think they’re handling it well – and not any better among Conservative voters either. We are at a significant moment where the Tories are tainted for the next decade or more as a party that cannot be trusted on immigration. It’s a golden opportunity to make immigration a Labour issue and, more importantly, to fix what the Conservatives have broken.

Crucially, voters who backed the Conservatives in 2019 – a group that contains Labour voters that turned blue which Labour must win back – rank immigration as the top issue. While the economy and health dominate generally and are rightly a focus for us, the current circumstances highlight a unique time to make ground on a key issue that could put the Tories into critical condition.

This group is already convinced that the Tories can’t deliver on their promises. Flagging their continuing failings is important, but our priority must be focused on showing how we can deliver on fixing a system broken by thirteen years of Conservative mismanagement.

Some fear that progress can only be made for swing voters by moving to the right or simply providing a less awful policy to the Tories, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. As I have argued for many years, Labour can win on immigration and remain true to its progressive principles.

The public rightly expect that any government run by any party will control the borders and make the system work. It’s all about how you deliver border security and how the system is maintained – and this is where we can seize ground. Progressive values commit us to fairness, humane treatment and plans that deliver  – and this is diametrically opposed to the distinctly unfair, evidence-free gimmicks and nonsense of the Tories that is at the heart of the wrongheaded, unworkable and worse. We  will succeed if we maintain the courage of our convictions as progressives.

Previously and elsewhere I’ve set out over 60 policy ideas for how a Labour government can create a fair immigration system promoting economic prosperity, ensuring greater respect and delivering improved border security. These involve reforming the points-based system to spur growth and fill short-term occupational gaps, cutting immigration fees, closing loopholes exempting English language proficiency and tightening requirements on good character – and all building on principles set out by Keir Starmer (in the Fabian pamphlet published immediately before mine) and reforms launched under a Labour government, as a reminder that we have many achievements to celebrate and build on.

If immigration is supposed to be a ‘wedge’ issue, it has created a space for Labour to further our lead – and cut through to the voters we need to win and put Keir Starmer in 10 Downing Street. We should continue the excellent work led by Yvette Cooper and Stephen Kinnock in convincing the public that they can trust in Labour to deliver prosperity and security. This is and will continue to be done by embracing our progressive values and the fairness at its heart. Competence and compassion are what defines our approach and its distinctiveness from the Conservatives who show the opposite.

Opportunities like this don’t arise often. This is a moment to seize that can have a material effect on our forming the next government, if we get it right.

If you enjoyed this piece, read more on the topic in Labour’s Immigration Policy: Past Mistakes and Future Opportunities.