Send 'em all back, guv...
True, there had been decent discussion from some within the Labour party, including John Denham and Jon Cruddas, who erred on the side of caution, fearing that a further influx of migrants on a similar scale to the mostly Polish workers that have came here since the last few countries joined the EU could force down the average casual wage packets of their working-class constituents. Most of the evidence that there has been a drop in wages since the borders were opened though is purely anecdotal, with almost certainly untrue stories of Polish workers being paid £2 an hour, a sum which they could make back at home, even with the current rate of 15.5% unemployment.
The government's argument, if you can even call it that, was laid bare on Newsnight. Paxman didn't just rip the minister to shreds, he did the equivalent of tearing his leg off and then beating him with the soggy end. Asked why the government had apparently changed its mind from two years ago when the government considers the influx of workers from the East as a great success, all he could whimper was that we risked having too much of a good thing, all while still trumpeting how prescient the government had been in the first place, being only one of three countries to allow true freedom of movement and work. Such a feeble argument was put up against the 10 O'Clock News's almost blatantly xenophobic first report, featuring every single anti-immigration opponent they could find, with UKIP's leader telling blatant lies about the EU, before a much more realistic and sad report from Romania and Bulgaria itself, where those asked for their opinions seemed rightly and reasonably affronted by the venom which has dripped through the tabloids and even some of the TV reports.
The main reason why the papers haven't concentrated on Reid's capitulation is that his laid down rules are so utterly piss-poor. 20,000 unskilled workers will be allowed to apply to come and work here from January the 1st - half the total number which a poll for the Ministry of Bulgaria estimated were likely to leave, and most of them had Spain, Germany, Italy and Greece in their sights, not the UK. Earlier research by the Institute of Public Policy Research concluded that at most, 50,000 Romanians and 18,000 Bulgarians could have applied to work here, numbers far off the tabloid fantasies of another 500,000. If anything, the IPPR's study seems to have overestimated the numbers likely to leave. 20,000 may well be close to the number that would have came had restrictions not been announced. The other main new policy associated with the restrictions is that £1000 on the spot fines will be introduced for those found to be working illegally, although none of the reports I've read make it clear whether this will be imposed on the actual worker or the employer, or both. Reid's plans don't include limits on the self-employed, and he hasn't explained how Romanians or Bulgarians will actually be stopped from coming here despite the restrictions. It's a complete and utter shambles, a truly ridiculous policy made up on the hoof to appease the tabloids, showing no signs of being fully thought through in the true style of Blair's sofa government reacting to headlines.
As the Guardian leader notes, Reid's policy has "added rather than subtracted from the exploitation and complexity surrounding migration," but it should have gone further and said it has also added to the hostility and fear of foreigners. Today's latest rent-a-rant from mad Melanie Philips, aka Very Scary Spice, is a prime example. While attempting to rationalise the attacks on Muslims which only a sentence ago she called reprehensible, she raves (hat-tip to Mask of Anarchy):
In any event, such attacks are just as likely to be the result of frustration with the failure to address the problem; or (as Phillips himself also observed) the entirely separate influx into the country of East Europeans who are — dismayingly — deeply prejudiced against black or Asian people, and would be so whatever may or may not be said in public about them.
Right, so if it isn't British people attacking Muslims because of their refusal to tackle their own "problems", then it's those nasty East Europeans, who are prejudiced against black or Asian people, completely unlike saintly Mel P or those who've carried out the numerous incidents of verbal abuse and physical violence which have occurred since Jack Straw started the debate on the veil.
The problem for Labour is that all this populist posturing just isn't working. For all the kow-towing it's done to the Sun and the Mail over the last few months, its support isn't coming back or even stabilising, it's continuing to drop. Today's Guardian/ICM poll puts Labour 10 points behind the Tories on 29%, which would result in either a hung parliament or a slight Tory majority if a general election happened tomorrow. That this is occurring against a Conservative party led by a Blair clone with no policies is absolutely disastrous. It just confirms that if Labour is to regain its support, Blair needs to be jettisoned as soon as possible, with his acolytes and their failed policies going with him. Only that may result in Labour returning for a fourth term, and at the moment, the hung parliament looks much more inviting, especially with the possibility of the Liberal Democrats forming a coalition with one of the parties and demanding the proportional representation be introduced in return.