Labour governments have capitulated to immigrant-bashing before. On each occasion the result was spiralling racism. In the 1964 general election, the Tories ran a vicious and nakedly racist campaign in the Labour seat of Smethwick.
Labour responded by pledging “continued control of immigration, stricter health checks and deportation of those convicted of criminal offences”. It lost the seat to the Tory candidate, against national trends. In April 1968, Enoch Powell made his infamous “rivers of blood” speech calling for the repatriation of immigrants. He was sacked from the Tory opposition’s front bench.
But Harold Wilson’s Labour government responded by rushing through anti-immigrant legislation. That boosted Powell and the racist right. In 1976 the arrival of just 250 Asians — all of whom had British passports—from the African state of Malawi sparked a bout of hysterical racist scare stories in the press.
Labour again caved in to the anti-immigration brigade. Racist attacks soared — within three weeks three young Asian men were murdered. Votes for the fascist National Front soared. Even on the most cynical measure it did Labour no good to surrender to the racism. Labour lost the general elections of 1970 and 1979, as Tories and forces to their right benefited from the artificial scare.