The voice of Ed Balls is the latest addition to an ever-growing chorus within Labour commenting on the impact of immigration on the party’s electoral fortunes. The emerging conclusion is Labour went too far with immigration.
Balls wrote an article for the Observer titled “We were wrong to allow so many eastern Europeans into Britain”. The piece concludes:
There have been real economic gains from the arrival of young, hard-working migrants from eastern Europe over the past six years. But there has also been a direct impact on the wages, terms and conditions of too many people — in communities ill-prepared to deal with the reality of globalisation, including the one I represent.
The result was, as many of us found in the election, our arguments on immigration were not good enough . . . In retrospect, Britain should not have rejected transitional controls on migration from the first wave of new EU member states in 2004, which we were legally entitled to impose.
Balls is right that Labour was wrong — but the fault lies not with the decision to open our labour markets to the accession states. It is instead pretty much everything else preceding and following that decision which was wrong, including much of the subsequent analysis.
It’s worth noting that, according to recent statistics, eastern Europeans account for roughly 1.5 per cent of the working-age population. The proposition that this tiny minority of the population had such a significant impact on the wages, terms and conditions of “too many people” just doesn’t stand up.
Of course, immigration could, in theory, reduce wages and conditions by increasing the supply of labour. But the economy in reality has responded to immigration by increasing the demand for labour.