UK
28/10/2014 03:48 GMT | Updated 28/10/2014 03:59 GMT

David Blunkett Defends Michael Fallon's 'Swamped' Immigration Comments

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was right to speak out about immigration, despite the outcry over his use of the term "swamped", former Labour home secretary David Blunkett has said.

Mr Blunkett's comments come after after David Cameron yesterday distanced himself from the words used by Mr Fallon, saying politicians need to choose their language carefully when it comes to immigration.

Mr Fallon claimed that some towns were "under siege" because of the numbers of migrant workers from Europe and "people claiming benefits" on Sky News on Sunday.

He later said this comment was "a bit careless" but insisted "large numbers" of immigrants were stretching services.

The rise of Ukip has fuelled the growth of immigration as a talking point for both Labour and the Tories, as both fear losing votes to the eurosceptic party at next year's general election.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Mr Blunkett recalled the controversy that arose from his own use of the term "swamped" when speaking on the issue 12 years ago.

david blunkett

David Blunkett agreed with Michael Fallon's comments

He said: "Yet for all such condemnation, I believe that both Michael Fallon and I were right to speak out on this issue and voice the concerns of ordinary voters.

"Just because immigration is deeply controversial, that cannot mean that we should avoid talking about it."

"What we need from all politicians is honesty and openness, not a desire for political point-scoring or displays of self-righteous importance."

He continued: "So explosive was the row that Fallon was even pressurised by Downing Street into issuing a retraction.

"This storm echoed the experience I went through 12 years ago when I, too, used the word ‘swamped’ to describe the anxious feelings of people who were facing the dispersal of large numbers of asylum seekers into their own hard-pressed Northern communities.

"Such fears were being fuelled at the time by the tremendous strain put on vital public services such as GPs’ practices, local schools and social housing.

"Just as today, my use of the word ‘swamped’ caused a bitter controversy. In contrast to Michael Fallon’s case, I was not told by Downing Street to use different words — but the then PM Tony Blair’s office did distance itself from my language.

"Moreover, I was subjected to a barrage of criticism from right across the political spectrum."

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He said the issue of immigration is too serious not to be discussed and said it is "foolish" to deny that there are some problems associated with it.

Mr Blunkett detailed his own views on how to address the issue, including strengthening borders, requiring immigrants to speak English and denying benefits to those who do not build up an entitlement through work.

The Prime Minister told the Commons yesterday that Mr Fallon was right to correct himself.

Mr Cameron said he agreed Mr Fallon could have chosen his words in a different way.

Mr Fallon had significantly ramped up Tory rhetoric on the sensitive issue with his warning that some areas felt "under siege" and action was needed "to prevent whole towns and communities being swamped by huge numbers of migrant workers".

The Cabinet minister admitted he was "a bit careless" in his choice of language although stood by the substance of his remarks.