Diane Abbott recently repeated her assertion that “Labour can’t out-UKIP UKIP”, something she has said on numerous occasions since UKIP’s rise to prominence. It’s a surprising expression because no one has suggested Labour “out-UKIP UKIP”. Labour moderates merely suggest that Labour pledge to reduce the scale of immigration to bring its policy in line with public opinion. They point to the fact that a whopping 77% of the public want to see immigration reduced.
Recent polling shows Labour well behind; while 42% of the public say they would vote Conservative, only 28% would vote Labour. Many traditional Labour supporters abandoned the party to vote UKIP in the 2015 General Election. Many more voted Leave in the 2016 EU referendum. It is now generally accepted that Labour’s open borders stance has contributed to its declining share of the vote.
“Moving right on immigration won’t save seats”
Abbott has claimed that Labour won’t benefit from bringing its immigration policy in line with public opinion:
The idea that moving right on immigration in post-industrial Britain will save us seats is I think misconceived.
This is a surprising supposition to say the least. Abbott appears to think that Labour can afford to remain at odds with the public on one of the number one questions of the day. Unless Labour can somehow provoke a wholesale change in public opinion on immigration, this seems unlikely.
Post Brexit, Labour can compromise with the electorate. But if it doesn’t, the 2020 General Election could see it become the party of principled failure.