Diane Abbott sparks Labour backlash by ruling out tougher stance on immigration

Posted On: 
17th November 2016

Diane Abbott has sparked a fresh Labour split by declaring the party will not try to "out-Ukip Ukip" by taking a tougher stance on immigration.

Diane Abbott faced a backlash from other Labour MPs over immigration
Credit: 
PA Images

The Shadow Home Secretary said the party would alienate many of its own voters and should instead be trying to woo those who currently back the SNP, Lib Dems and Greens.

Ms Abbott rejected claims that Labour should try to win back voters who have switched to Ukip and the Tories in it its traditional heartlands, and insisted most of its supporters have a “favourable” attitude to immigration.

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Writing for Labour List, she said: “Labour would have to travel a very long distance in order to win any [Ukip voters] over on this particular issue. It is very hard to out-Ukip Ukip on this issue, and the risk would be of alienating large swathes of Labour’s current support.”

Her comments came a day after PoliticsHome revealed that Labour would not be appointing a Shadow Immigration Minister because Ms Abbott wants to control the brief herself.

But former Labour frontbencher Michael Dugher accused his party colleague of being “wilfully naïve” and said Labour must try to reflect the concerns of its traditional voters.

The Barnsley East MP said: "To ignore the fact that immigration is a major and legitimate concern for many traditional Labour voters - and importantly those we would like to vote Labour in future - is out of touch.

"People like Diane just need to get out more. Having fair but tough controls on immigration, plus having policies that protect workers at home and abroad from exploitation, is entirely consistent with our values.

"Many of us - including Ed Miliband before the general election - have worked hard inside the party to get Labour into a better position on what is a crucial issue. Unfortunately, some of the middle class, inner-London elite within our party still find this uncomfortable and challenging.

"I'm sure Diane wishes to grow the Labour vote, rather than stick with the defeats of 2010 and 2015 or, worse, risk taking the party further backwards. But this 'no compromise with the electorate' attitude is the political equivalent of the charge of the Light Brigade and it can only bring disaster for Labour."

Another Labour MP told PoliticsHome: “If Diane thinks we can deal with the threats facing our society simply by continuing to shout the same thing we’ve been shouting the last 20 years and just shout it louder I think she’s got the wrong end of the stick."

“The fundamental flaw in Diane’s argument is it seems to be only about deepening and consolidating Labour’s vote and seems to have no thought at all about how we’re going to build a broader base of support which is a precondition for winning elections”.

A report carried out by Labour MP John Cruddas into Labour's 2015 defeat found the party's approach to immigration was “toxic” among voters in the north, many of whom switched to Ukip.