Liam Byrne: a minister who should make Labour members ashamed of their own government

by Stephen Tall on September 25, 2007

Last week, the Lib Dem conference overwhelmingly approved plans drawn up by Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes to tackle the issue of the estimated 600,000 immigrants currently living in the UK illegally – they would be able to earn British citizenship if they could prove they had no criminal record and could show a long-term commitment to the country.

The proposal earned praise from The Economist, which said “the plan looks more credible than the government’s commitment to deport all illegal immigrants, something which at the current rate would take at least 25 years.”

The response from the Labour Government, in the person of immigration minister Liam Byrne, was depressingly familiar:

“I believe those here illegally should go home – not go to the front of the queue for jobs and benefits.”

Depressing and predictable – New Labour’s populist urges, deliberately using language more associated with the far-right BNP than a progressive party of the left, are becoming even more emphatic under Gordon Brown’s leadership.

However, credit where it’s due to former Labour deputy leadership candidate, Jon Cruddas, who has publicly attacked Mr Byrne for his comments:

“Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, his response was they should go home. And these people are jumping to the front of the queue for jobs and services, which I thought was an extraordinary response. As soon as this starts percolating around, we are on the wrong side of this debate.

“I don’t see the solution to the far right as to try and outdo them in the language they use. The solution is to offer an alternative analysis and remedy.”

Nor is it the first time that Liam Byrne, the very model of a modern New Labour minister, has fallen foul of his comrades for his callous attitude to immigration. Back in February, Labour MP for Grimsby, Austin Mitchell, publicly excoriated Mr Byrne for his ‘cold’ and ‘misleading’ conduct as a minister in a deportation case, concluding:

Perhaps it will win votes to Labour from the lumpen lunatics who’ve deluged the Grimsby Telegraph’s website with abuse of their soft, immigrant-loving, geriatric, fool of an MP. Perhaps we’ll win enough National Fronters to compensate for the loss of the many liberals this has alienated. I don’t know. But I do know how I feel. Ashamed.