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.

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This would be the very same Liam Byrne who adopted a disgraceful rent-a-mob campaign of threats and intimidation against his Lib Dem rival during the Birmingham Hodge Hill by-election on the spurious grounds that she worked for the mobile phone industry, would it not? Seems to me there is a pattern forming.

by James Graham on September 25, 2007 at 11:37 am. Reply #

Its rather Old Labour too. Unions hate the competition from cheap non-union labour (hence their calls for ‘improved conditions’ abroad and for immigrant labour – to raise the cost of hiring them).

Labour has mainly been protectionist, and protectionism in trade leads to protectionism in labour movement as well, and the socialism pursued by Labour in the past has always been a small step away from nationalism, and that tendancy has not left the party with the majority of socialist rhetoric.

(of course, this is not true of all socialists or all Labour members – but it is a strong current. FA Hayek pointed this out in ‘The Road to Serfdom’ and then was attacked by Labour MPs as being a foreigner…)

by Tristan Mills on September 25, 2007 at 11:38 am. Reply #

Well nationalism is the flavour of the week with Brown’s awful speech. But it does us all a favour – makes us realise just why we are Liberals and he and his shabby party are not.

by Tony Greaves on September 25, 2007 at 11:49 am. Reply #

Brown said British or Britishness 71 times in his speech. Setting out to appeal to Middle England and Tory voters, with the cry for ‘British jobs for British people!’
Move over the Eastern Europeans, we really want to do the jobs that you’ve taken away from us. In his dreams!

by Meral Ece on September 25, 2007 at 12:50 pm. Reply #

Oh dear oh dear. The Nokia line was I think completely justified by Lib Dem campaigns against mobile phone masts all over the country.

If you dish this nonsense out you cannot complain when it gets dished out to you can you? Yes you can but you have no right to.

On the remarks from his immigration row I AGREE and hope that this position will be changed with FOUR (count ’em) of our DL six either for or persuadable on earnt regularisation.

Don’t see any great problem with Gordon’s Britishness streak through his speech Lord Greaves. 85 times is a bit strong perhaps. And you will need to qualify your assertion that this was an “awful speech”. It was a lot better than Blair’s last time.

Blair specifically attacked the organisation Liberty in that.

by Chris Paul on September 25, 2007 at 3:25 pm. Reply #

An interesting contrast with the approach of a Home Secretary of the 1960s, who said, on the question of deportation “The test I apply could be described as follows: Has the sum total of the offender’s behaviour been such that, as an act of justice, he can properly be visited with the severe penalty of being uprooted from whatever associations he may have formed here and sent back, under the stigma of deportation, to start again where he came from.”

That particular Home Secretary was not Roy Jenkins or any other Labour luminary. Rather it was Mr Henry Brooke, whom in our student days we regarded as the most reactionary minister in a Tory government, even if it counted J Enoch Powell amongst its other members.

In comparison with the present incumbents, he now seems a positive beacon of enlightenment.

by Ian Roebuck on September 25, 2007 at 10:36 pm. Reply #

The “Nokia” line was only justified if a) Labour happen to believe that mobile phone masts give you cancer and b) they didn’t cross the line by using bullying and intimidatory strong arm tactics. If the former is true, where is the legislative crackdown on phone masts? And the latter is a matter of record.

You may be au fait with militant-style Labour tactics, but the rest of us moved on from the 80s a long time ago.

by James Graham on September 27, 2007 at 11:51 pm. Reply #

I have in my posession a letter from Liam Byrne stating that his comments were made to:
“merely reflect a strong desire to emphasise the governments commitment to the removal of immigration offenders as set out in the Enforcement Strategy…”

At no point did he address my query (made through my MP) that he identify which benefits illegal immigrants are going to the front of the queue for.

AIUI illegal immigrants wouldn’t qualify for any benefits. I’m certainly not aware of any that they would “go to the front of the queue for”

Claiming fraudulent benefits is no the same as “going to the front of the queue”

Letter at
(see Chris – the sky doesn’t fall in if you produce some evidence 🙂

by Hywel Morgan on November 20, 2007 at 7:14 pm. Reply #

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