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The Left Need to Stop Burying Their Heads in the Sand When It Comes to Immigration

17/11/2015 09:15 GMT | Updated 16/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Frustratingly and regrettably, it has gone on too long. Those on the left of British politics have hardly fought, and have subsequently lost, the battle over the issue of immigration. With polls indicating that immigration is the overall top issue concerning voters in the UK, the issue is far from resolved and the left need to stand up and put their point across in a new way.

Ipsos Mori recorded their highest ever levels of anti-immigration polling during the summer with over half of those polled choosing immigration as the most important policy issue. Considering the NHS was easily beaten in the polls to being the closest issue to voter's hearts, the focus of the media and electorate on the issue of immigration signals a monumental shift in British politics, which the left cannot ignore any longer.

Make no mistake, progressive change to the way the left argues for the benefits of immigration is not about changing policy direction. It is about being realistic with the public. Separating truth from spin is a difficult task but without a strong voice on the left of the debate, the likes of UKIP will be able to dictate a narrative. A narrative that seeks to tie all immigrants with the same brush, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks and other atrocities. If the right is allowed to control the public's reaction to immigration, then they will also control their response to events that seem to demonise the majority of immigrants. An anti-immigration British response to the refugee crisis, for example, will only weaken and have detrimental effects for Europe as a whole.

If the left could summon the courage to tackle the debate on immigration responsibly and address the public's concerns, then much of the left-wing popularism that is so popular in the UK would be welcomed. Renationalisation of the rail, a tax credit system that hasn't been tampered with and a living wage for all, is high on the agendas of the average voter. But only through addressing their top priority in a way that does not push them away or brand them 'racist', will the left gain electoral credibility again.

Conversations with voters during this year's general election when the question of immigration was raised, was admittedly awkward. People didn't know what Labour stood for. Simply telling the electorate that Labour would promote social integration and make sure migrants had a part to play in society lacked substance and was easily one-upped by the Tories.

Labour need to stress the importance of the undercutting of British wages from exploitative employers, an issue which was championed by Andy Burnham during his leadership campaign. Labour need to uphold an immigration policy that also plays a key role in protecting the worker to regain voter's trust on immigration.

If the left carry on to hide away from this debate, then they forfeit credibility. Attacking the government's failed attempts to reduce immigration, while putting forward bold policies which outline Labour's belief in protecting workers, is the direction party policy now has to go. To convince voters of the progressive advantages immigration can bring to the UK, the left need to step up.