Jeremy Corbyn has urged voters to not blame immigrants or the EU for low wages and job insecurity in Britain - and instead blame previous Labour and Tory governments.
Just a week before the EU referendum, the Labour leader rammed home his ‘Remain and Reform’ message and declared that Tory Brexiteers were “playing that old trick” of scapegoating migrants.
Corbyn’s decision to attack both the Blair and Brown governments, as well as Thatcher and Major’s, came as David Cameron and senior Tories were once again locked in civil war over Europe.
The Prime Minister slammed former Conservative leaders Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith as well as former Chancellors Lord Lawson and Lamont. Howard, when asked to assess the damage to the economy caused by Brexit, admitted “Nobody knows for sure what the future holds”.
But in an attempt to persuade Labour voters to get out and back the In campaign, Corbyn urged his party’s supporters to ignore the Tory infighting and instead focus on the way the EU helped provide jobs and protection at work.
A new MORI/Evening Standard poll gave yet another lead for the Brexit camp, with a dramatic turnaround since May as some 53% now want to leave and 47% want to stay,
Nigel Farage also unveiled another poster depicting long lines of migrants waiting to get into Europe.
With immigration now seen as a touchstone issue for many in traditional Labour areas, Corbyn said that it was time to put the responsibility for low wages and work insecurity where it belonged - on both parties’ governments of the past 30 years.
"Too many voices in this debate are only playing that old trick, the blame game. And when politicians play the blame game, it’s usually because they have nothing serious to offer themselves,” Corbyn said in a speech in Yorkshire.
“Now they want to use people’s real concerns about the impact of EU migration to turn the campaign into a referendum on immigration.”
In an echo of a strong defence of migrants by former SNP leader Alex Salmond and Labour’s Liz Kendall in the Telegraph-HuffPost EU Debate this week, Corbyn argued that zero hours and other job issues were really to blame.
"The Conservative governments of Thatcher and Major scrapped financial regulations that would have prevented the banking crash and Labour failed to re-regulate, so blame our own governments, don’t blame the EU or immigrants,” he said.
“It was those same governments of the 1980s and early 90s that deregulated the labour market so that zero hours contracts could flourish and the share of wealth going to workers fell off a cliff.
“It is unscrupulous employers and politicians who have allowed temporary contracts, agency and enforced part-time working and bogus self-employment to mushroom. So blame the politicians, who opened the door to rampant job insecurity.”
Corbyn added that when immigrants arrived in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s, “there was very little debate about migrants driving down wages and undercutting because then we had powerful employment protection and strong trade union rights”.
Corbyn’s remarks may cause unease among Labour MPs who believe that attacking the Blair and Brown governments is a mistake, given their popularity among party supporters.
And Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell appeared at a campaign event with former PM Gordon Brown, whose failure to properly regulate the banks was highlighted by Corbyn.
But on the issue of migration, several senior Shadow Cabinet figures believe that the threat of UKIP in Labour heartlands can only be combatted if the party admits it got it wrong on migration and workers’ rights in the past.
Corbyn praised Dennis Skinner, who is backing Brexit, for pointing out that Sports Direct’s midlands HQ was on the same site as a coal mine where Eastern European miners worked alongside English colleagues, doing the same job, earning the same pay and in the same union.
“Today that same site is owned by Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct, where he employs 200 full-time employees and 3,000 people, mainly eastern Europeans, on zero-hours contracts," he said.
“Today we have a deregulated labour market that allows unscrupulous employers to undercut local pay by exploiting migrant workers and undercut good businesses by forcing a race to the bottom. So migrants aren’t driving down wages. Unscrupulous employers are because the government allows them to.”
Corbyn's words came as a new video was launched to give migrants a say in the EU referendum.
To underline Corbyn's other campaign message of warning that Brexit will lead to an even more ‘right wing, Tory Government’, he also slammed Eurosceptics in the Leave campaign.
“These are the same Tory Ministers and MPs who voted to: cut mental health budgets, scrap nurses’ and midwives’ bursaries, slash social care for the elderly and disabled, open up ever more of the NHS to private companies and private patients- and pick damaging and unnecessary fights with junior doctors.”
The Labour leader declared that Labour should not only outlaw zero hours contracts but also establish a European minimum standard of rights at work, “to stop undercutting and give people the job security they need”.
“And now that Germany has introduced a minimum wage there is an opportunity to move towards a European-wide minimum wage – linked to average pay and the cost of living in each country. To halt the race to the bottom in pay and conditions and increase wages across Europe.”
Earlier, David Cameron hit back at senior Tories who had attacked the Chancellor’s plans for an emergency ‘Brexit Budget’.
In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, Lamont, Lawson, Duncan Smith and Howard all lambasted George Osborne's threat to hold an emergency Budget to implement spending cuts and tax rises should there be a Brexit vote.
"There has been startling dishonesty in the economic debate, with a woeful failure on the part of the Bank of England, the Treasury and other official sources to present a fair and balanced analysis," they wrote.
"They have been peddling phoney forecasts and scare stories to back up the attempts of David Cameron and George Osborne to frighten the electorate into voting Remain."
At least 65 Tory MPs signed a statement condemning Osborne's threat, with many suggesting his position was now untenable.