One issue which is sure to get people talking – and in some cases very angry – is immigration. Ed Miliband made a speech about immigration last week.
I often get letters from constituents claiming that spending is being cut and that they are being badly affected but immigrants are able to get plasma TVs and gold-plated benefits. A lot of it is not true of course; in the vast, vast majority of cases immigrants move to where there is work and don’t claim benefits.
In some ways, West Hartlepool is an immigrant town: 160 years ago there was nothing here but sand dunes, but growing industry and the prospect of prosperity and a new life brought people here. That is certainly true of my own family: my great, great grandfather Frederic Wright came to the town in the 1870s from rural North Yorkshire to get work as a labourer in the shipyards. He met a girl, Jane Pearson, fell in love and married on Christmas Day in 1876 in Stranton Church; because that is the only day he could get off work. I’m very glad they did meet, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.
One of the most successful elements of Britain’s values is its tolerance and openness. Successive waves of immigration have actually made our country stronger and improved our economy. But people’s fears are very real and shouldn’t be somehow dismissed as simply being racist. If immigration isn’t managed properly, it can cause real damage in society. In many respects Hartlepool doesn’t have as huge a problem. We have an immigration rate of less than 1 per cent. Nevertheless, I think people want to see controlled migration.
I wouldn’t agree with the free market notion of having a completely open market. Let the market decide and allow a race to the bottom for wages if people from overseas are prepared to work for less. I don’t agree with that. Similarly, I don’t agree with the Conservative right wing approach that says let’s close the borders completely. Britain has never adopted such an approach and our economy and society would suffer as a result. A better balance and more control are therefore needed, meaning that people who come here should learn English, to be able to play a full part in our great country. It also means clamping down on agencies that employ only cheap, foreign labour at the expense of local people.