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Josie on immigration

Can immigration ever be a winning issue for Labour?

By Councillor Josie Channer


I can only speak from the small corner of East London that elected twelve BNP councillors in 2006 and voted Leave in the 2016 EU Referendum. As Barking and Dagenham celebrates this year’s 70th anniversary of Windrush, after the Windrush scandal, immigration has been at the forefront of people’s minds once again.

Barking and Dagenham is a different place than it was in 2006, with a now established West African and a growing South Asian commu

nity, bonded together by the local history of the white working class. Barking market is bursting with colours as an explosion of cultures come together. Bizarrely it seemed as though these different communities came in the 2016 EU Referendum to vote Leave. “We need to get out right now. I’m definitely voting out” a woman yelled, encouraged by murmurs of agreement from other black women sitting in a packed black hairdressing salon in Barking the day before the referendum.

Many black people told me that they voted Leave because jobs catering, hospitality and security were being “taken” by Eastern European workers. Many white people told me that they voted to Leave because of pressures on local services such as GPs, housing and school places. Unfortunately, these fears and concerns sounded formula to those raised in 2006 and those that voiced 70 years ago to the arrival of migrants from the Caribbean.

However, the Windrush scandal has shined a different light on the issue of immigration. Instead of immigration being a threat to working class jobs and communities, the pain and suffering of people that have given their all to this country has been thrown to the fore. As the daughter of a Windrush migrant myself I was outraged. The scandal has made people in Barking and Dagenham come together again and think what kind of country do we want to live in?

Immigration has been a very unconfutable policy area for Labour in the past. We have had to tiptoe nervously between opposing views in the traditional working-class heartlands that voted to leave the EU, metropolitan remain areas and a host of other demographics splitting the Labour option on immigration a range of ways. But for the first time in a long time I’ve been please to seen a confident Labour Party come together forcefully on immigration.

The Labour Party has previously shut down debate about immigration, the infamous ‘Mrs Duffy’ incident during the 2010 election is an example of that. We need to continually to address people’s concerns, while staying true to our values. We also need to continually seek to improve as a party. Moving swiftly to address all types of discrimination within the party must be priority. With that said, I absolutely believe that immigration can become a winning issue for Labour.

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