Don't Vote Leave Out of Fear of Immigration - It's a Con.

23/06/2016 11:09 | Updated 23 June 2016

A few weeks ago, on BBC's Victoria Derbyshire EU Youth Debate, a young woman set on a leave vote raised her concerns about immigration. She was worried that her mother wouldn't have access to a council house due to mass migration, she told the audience.

The response was predictable. One audience member responded by aggressively defending multiculturalism and implying that the woman know what she was talking about. The applause was deafening. How dare she question immigration? She was probably just a UKIP-voting racist.

Shouting down the concerned young woman probably didn't help - in fact, I'd guess she felt pretty patronised and rightly so. After all, her views are pretty mainstream. The majority of people in the UK think that too many people are coming into this country. In the run up to this EU referendum, it's become the chief concern of a majority of voters (especially in England).

I don't know why the left deploy such sanctimonious arguments when tackling this issue but it's a recurring problem. It's no wonder the right wing argument on immigration - that EU migrants are undercutting workers' wages, taking up living space and putting pressure on public services - is now the prevailing narrative in the public consciousness.

Of course, the way that the Daily Express and others have forced these messages down our throat with endless fear-mongering headlines (try replacing the word 'migrant' with Jew, Muslim or human being) has obviously left its mark.

However, the left's response has been pitiful. When working people correctly point out that public services are struggling, many politicians highlight that immigrants are of net benefit to the UK and that multi-culturalism is shiny and happy and wonderful. Sure, those answers make sense but they don't directly engage with people's genuine concerns.

Watching John Harris' latest documentary for The Guardian, I was struck by just how detached people feel from Labour, for example, the party they've historically elected to represent them. Having cosmopolitan politicians tell people worried about jobs that EU migrants boost the economy is a pointless tactic. They already know they're being screwed - unfortunately, the right have already successfully made immigrants the convenient scapegoat.

What's most depressing is that the left aren't confident enough in their own argument, even though the statistics are on their side. Hearing UKIP politicians and right wing Leave campaigners, you'd think that the last six years of punishing Tory austerity had never happened. Instead of investing in services and building more houses, the Conservatives have cut mercilessly, and the poorest in our society are paying more proportionally than anybody else.

Food bank use is at record levels, child poverty is on the rise and the richest in our society have rarely had it so good. When privileged elites like Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson claim they're railing against the establishment, you have to remind yourself who they are: Tories who want to privatise your services, cut taxes for the rich and cut benefits for the poor.

The fact is we're not 'swamped': a tiny amount of UK land is even built on. Scotland meanwhile suffers from emigration, if anything, and an ageing population. More than that, the free movement of people is actually one of the Remain camp's strongest arguments: millions of Britons benefit from this system and detaching ourselves from the EU project would affect them as much as it would affect those that have moved here.

As Neal Ascherton put it in the Sunday Herald this week:

Some real cases exist where European immigration has pushed down local wages or overloaded English schools, hospital or housing. But it's not Brussels that is to blame, let alone Polish or Romanian families. It's recent governments - Labour and Tory - which gave up on council housing and failed to finance the growth of schools and hospitals.

There are genuinely strong arguments that the Leave campaign could make on the need for reform in a bureaucratic, centralised neo-liberal EU. When the people running the Leave campaign say they want reform, that's not what they're talking about. They want to strip away workers' rights, move power from European elites to British elites and set up an administration that will be even more viciously right wing than the current setup.

The Remain camp have avoided the immigration argument like the plague because they're scared to attack the government, so the debate consequently hasn't been framed in the right way. My message to working class voters worried about immigration is this: know your enemy. These people don't want what's best for you. They never have and they never will.