EXCL Dan Jarvis: Labour must get tough on immigration or face election meltdown
Dan Jarvis has warned that Labour is heading for a general election disaster unless it makes clear it no longer backs freedom of movement.
The MP - tipped by many as a future Labour leader - said the party will definitely lose seats unless it makes the "progressive" case for restricting the number of immigrants coming to Britain.
In an interview with The House magazine, Mr Jarvis also attacked left-wing activists planning to deselect sitting Labour MPs and called on Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to publicly oppose moves to dump the "outstanding" Hilary Benn.
The Barnsley Central MP also insisted he would not follow the example of Jamie Reed and Tristram Hunt by quitting his seat, and dropped a clear hint that he is prepared to serve on Mr Corbyn's frontbench in the future.
The Labour leader was criticised last week after he watered down a speech in which he was expected to harden Labour's stance on free movement.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott has also warned that Labour should not try to be "Ukip-lite" on immigration.
But Mr Jarvis said the party must address the concerns that many Labour voters have on the issue.
He said: "There has been a view among many people who traditionally supported Labour that we didn’t understand or care about the concerns that they had, and worse than that, that we looked down upon them for having those concerns. That’s a toxic mix for us as a party. If we don’t address those concerns we will have significant challenges in the future."
"Any Labour party manifesto ahead of the next general election must have an immigration policy which does two things – recognises the benefits but understands the concerns. It’s possible to do that, but if we don’t, that comes with significant consequences, meaning that we will lose seats.
"There’s nothing progressive about not listening to the concerns of the people we have come into politics to represent."
He added: "Immigration, along with Brexit, the economy, housing and the NHS, will be one of the strategic issues at the next general election, and we cannot afford not to have a credible position that recognises the benefits, but also understands the concerns.
"Not for a moment am I trying to out-Ukip Ukip, but it’s about a fair, reasonable system of immigration which makes it work more effectively for our country than it has done previously. That is a perfectly progressive way to proceed."
On threats to deselect Labour MPs, he said: "At a time when we face very significant challenges, we can’t afford to make it even tougher.
"It would be a great mistake if anyone thought our electoral interests were served by removing any of those people, because that would make it much, much harder for us to compete electorally. That is a scenario that we must seek to avoid."
Both John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn have refused to defend Hilary Benn, who is facing a deselection threat in Leeds Central, arguing that it would be wrong to interfere in local democracy.
Mr Jarvis said "it would be helpful and much appreciated" if they gave him their backing and added: "He is an outstanding Member of Parliament and a great ambassador for the Labour party."