The former shadow business secretary, who was born in London to a Nigerian father and an Anglo-Irish mother, said Labour was mistaken in assuming that those who raised fears about immigration only did so through a “lack of understanding”.
He said too many Labour supporters rubbished anyone who voiced objections to immigration by dismissing them as “bigots and racists … who have been reading too much of the Daily Mail”.
Umunna said such a view was “unbelievably patronising, not just in respect of immigration, but in respect of economic policy as well”.
He rounded on those loyal to the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who called theiropponents within the party “red Tories” and “Tory-lite”. “Treating them [Tory voters] like the devil incarnate is not going to be the way you’re going to get them to vote for the Labour party and have a Labour government in future,” he said.
Umunna said Labour should not be afraid to express patriotic views. “I don’t think anyone in the Labour movement should underestimate the importance of us illustrating that we are as patriotic as anyone else,” he said. “And that’s why things like the national anthem, support for the armed services and all these things should never, ever be allowed to be the exclusive preserve of the Conservatives.”
Speaking at a fringe event organised by the Fabian Society at the Labour party conference in Liverpool on Sunday, he said Labour needed to change its policy on immigration to focus on integration. Umunna gave the example of the Somali community in Streatham, south London. Though praising them for opening “incredible” restaurants and businesses, he bemoaned the fact that they were only rarely visited by non-Somalis
“That’s because there’s no really muscular approach to immigration going on in our country,” he argued. “I think we have got to be quite clear, from the point of view of newcomers, just coming even if it’s just for a short time… [that] not getting involved in the community is not an option. There should be an expectation that you become part of the community because what you bring, your culture, enriches our community.
“If we give the impression that it somehow doesn’t matter if you get involved in your community, that’s a problem.”
Britons needed to help immigrants integrate, he said, suggesting that employers should be made to give new arrivals time off work to learn English, and local authorities should have statutory duties to integrate immigrants.
To make such suggestions did not mean he was pandering to Ukip’s agenda, he said. “I have no time for these people who say, ‘You’re waving the white flag, you’re giving in to Ukip.’ No, I’m not. Are we really saying that we want people to lead parallel lives in our country? Do you want to carry on with that situation? No, we don’t,” Umunna said.
“London sees itself as this great melting pot, but we are less integrated than any other part of the country, and that’s not just in terms of ethnicity, but in terms of class, race and in other ways.”