Miliband confronts bigot-gate in immigration speech

Ed Miliband is distancing himself from New Labour's record on immigration by outlining a new approach to help British workers.

The Labour leader directly confronted Gordon Brown's 'bigot-gate' gaffe during the last general election campaign, when the former prime minister was caught claiming a voter who expressed concerns about immigration was bigoted.

The gaffe is credited with wrecking Mr Brown's bid to secure his first full term in No 10. Immigration was a major issue on doorsteps in April 2010, when Labour candidates struggled to satisfy concerned voters with their references to New Labour's 'points-based system'.

"Worrying about immigration, talking about immigration, thinking about immigration, does not make them bigots. Not in any way," Mr Miliband said in his speech in central London.

"They are anxious about the future."

In his most significant bid yet to move Labour on from the reputation on immigration it earned during government Mr Miliband called the decision to allow workers from eastern European countries unfettered access to the UK a "mistake".

He said New Labour ministers were "dazzled by globalisation" and that the government he was a part of "lost sight" of who was benefiting.

Mr Miliband added: "We became disconnected from the concerns of working people."

In addition to committing to impose transitional arrangements for new EU members, Labour is outlining a number of measures it would implement to improve the current situation.

Employment agencies would be banned from favouring workers from overseas, even informally.

Companies which do employ a disproportionate number of foreign workers would face scrutiny from a government early warning system.

And employers who undercut the minimum wage would face doubled fines.

"This is not about imposing quotas. It is not about stopping firms hiring foreign workers. It is not about demanding employers fill in dozens of new forms," Mr Miliband added.

"It is about improving the information we collect, enabling job centres to identify where there is a high dependency on foreign labour and see if there is better training that can be offered to help local workers fill the gap."

His comments are inevitably drawing comparisons with Mr Brown's 2007 'British jobs for British workers' promise, however.

"Political speeches and policies on migrant labour come and go," Gerwyn Davies of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said.

"What remains constant is the desperate need of employers for workers with the skills and attitudes required to drive growth and performance for their organisations. Real solutions to the challenge of getting more British citizens into jobs won't come in the form of quick fixes."