2 Jun 2024

‘A better skill system will help bring net migration down’ says Shadow Education Secretary

Europe Editor and Presenter

Earlier we spoke to Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson. We began by asking her about Labour’s pledge to reform the current apprenticeship levy, in order to train up more UK workers, and how it would all be funded.

Bridget Phillipson: At the moment, through the apprenticeship levy, lots of that money isn’t being spent by employers, and what I have been hearing about this morning is how with the right support and with that flexibility that Labour will introduce, employers will be able to spend more of that on training opportunities for young people, but also to upskill their workforce.

Matt Frei: But how would you persuade businesses that it’s better for them to take the time and the care and the money to train someone up locally, as opposed to bringing someone in from outside?

Bridget Phillipson: Businesses are very much on board with what we’re saying and they’re increasingly frustrated about the limitations that are placed on them by the current system.

Matt Frei: Let’s talk about migration. Keir Starmer made a big announcement about migration today, as did Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, saying they want to bring those numbers down. There’s not a single politician on this planet who doesn’t want to bring those numbers down. But he failed to mention the specifics, either timing or actual quotas. So what’s the point?

Bridget Phillipson: We do want to bring net migration down, and part of the way in which we will do that is by having a better skill system that provides more training opportunities for young people and also more opportunities for adults, whether that’s in engineering or in manufacturing.

Matt Frei: What about the care sector?

Bridget Phillipson: Absolutely, in the care sector, too.

Matt Frei: The care sector can’t survive without foreign labour.

Bridget Phillipson: That’s also a question about wider reform that we want to deliver in terms of employment practices, too. Yes, it’s about skills, but it’s also about good terms and conditions for people at work and everything that we’re saying about Labour’s reforms of the employment system would also provide more dignity at work for people and more security too.

Matt Frei: You’ve had a pretty tough week in the campaign. I know it’s early days, but it’s not been a great week for you, mainly because of the the kind of back and forth over Diane Abbott. I talked to one member of the NEC yesterday, he said it was disgraceful.

Bridget Phillipson: We want to make sure that there are really strong candidates right across the board, and that has been a priority for us.

Matt Frei: Diane Abbott is a very strong candidate. She’s got a massive majority which keeps getting bigger.

Bridget Phillipson: And Keir has said that she can be a candidate in the election.

Matt Frei: Belatedly, it took him quite a long time to get there, only when Angela Rayner said she should run.

Bridget Phillipson: I’ll tell you, what I’ve heard from voters, whether it’s in Edinburgh, where I was earlier this week, in Sunderland and in Hexham, I’ve been to lots of our key seats right across the country. What I hear there is people want action on NHS waiting lists. They want cheaper bills and we’ll deliver that through a Labour government with Great British Energy, and they want more police on their streets to tackle antisocial behaviour.

Matt Frei: But a lot of Labour voters also want a party that is true to their principles, and what they see in Keir Starmer is a control freak – that’s what they’re telling us – who is more afraid of headlines in the Daily Mail than he is to basically be true to Labour values?

Bridget Phillipson: What Labour voters want is a Labour government and they want us to transform our country.

Matt Frei: So where’s the difference between you and the Tories? And it’s lots of continuity in terms of policy, just different personnel.

Bridget Phillipson: I think there are lots and lots of differences and voters are clear about that too – 6,500 more teachers, 13,000 more neighbourhood police officers and PCSOs, cutting NHS waiting lists, bringing down people’s energy bills, more skills.

Matt Frei: That is what the Tories are telling us.

Bridget Phillipson: It’s not happening, if that’s what they’re telling you is happening.

Matt Frei: And you need to make it happen without any money in the kitty.

Bridget Phillipson: They’ve had 14 years to deliver on all of this and they have failed, and that’s what I hear from voters right across the country. They want to turn a corner, to end Tory chaos and to get our country back on track, and that’s what a Labour government will deliver.

Matt Frei: Just one more on Diane Abbott, if I may. There’s a rumour out there, reports, actually one of the newspapers, that she might have been offered a peerage, a seat in the House of Lords, in order to keep her quiet and not run for her seat. Is that true?

Bridget Phillipson: I have no knowledge of that. There is a process when anyone is put forward for a peerage, that that applies to all parties, or a process to go through to determine whether they are an appropriate candidate for a peerage.

Matt Frei: Was there a process with her?

Bridget Phillipson: I have nothing to say on that, in that I wouldn’t know, I wouldn’t be involved in any of those kinds of conversations. But for all parties, where decisions of that kind are taken, there is a process that is gone through in terms of appointments and scrutiny and vetting, and that’s right and proper.

Matt Frei: But is the whole logic behind the treatment of Diane Abbott, that this is something to reassure wavering Conservative voters, reassure the kind of middle centre-right ground of British politics? So some of your own lot under the bus in order to get their votes?

Bridget Phillipson: No, this is about making sure that we’ve kind of gone through that full process, that there was an issue that has now been dealt with in terms of Diane’s actions and that has been responded to accordingly. And of course, with all candidates, that is a process that has to happen as well, and the NEC, Labour’s National Executive Committee, will have a process by which all candidates are endorsed.

Matt Frei: There wasn’t a process in the end, there was no conclusion to the investigation. She was just allowed to run when there was enough fuss made by people like Angela Rayner in the party. [

Bridget Phillipson: Kind of two separate things going on. There was a process by which the whip was restored to Diane, and then we’re all of us now going through the process of being endorsed as candidates for the general election. That’s as it should be.