The art of the edit

Following on from my earlier post on my love of words, I thought I’d expand on handing my words over to other people. I don’t mean you, Dear Reader, I mean editors.

It’s  been a few years since I last handed work over to an editor. I’d forgotten how it feels. To worry about having metaphors mangled, axioms addled, lovingly crafted phrases chopped and changed is an uncomfortable feeling. But a fairly fruitless one when the editor is good.

Because the editor isn’t bad. They’re just coming at things from a different point of view. They’re matching your article to the style of their site/magazine/newspaper/campaign leaflet. I’ve been in their shoes. It’s no easy task. Generally, as in this case, the alterations are small and hopefully improve the writing.

Anyway, I submitted this piece on immigration to Labour Uncut yesterday. It was a nice piece, originally a short few paragraphs which the editor asked me to expand and I duly did. I like the finished article and think other people do to. But I thought I’d show you here what editors do. The article has the removed words in red, and added words in green. Hope it makes sense. It may need editing.

I’m puzzled. I’m puzzled by our leaders and by some of the ‘professional’ commentariat.

I spent the general election campaigning on the ground. I knocked on a lot of doors, did a lot of phone-banking, talked to a lot of voters.

While I did most of that campaigning in Newcastle, that it wasn’t the only place. I talked to voters in Bury. I talked to voters in London. I talked to voters in Nottingham., Scotland, Wales and the Southwest.Scotland, Wales and the Southwest also heard my dulcet tones and found out my opinions.

I had fantastic conversations in our word-of-mouth campaign. Conversations about SureStart, about jobs, about hospitals. I listened to voters’ concerns on the economy, housing, welfare, education, and human rights. I learned a lot about what people thought Labour had done right and what we had done wrong.

And Hhaving done all that talking, listening, communicating, I’m puzzled.

I’m puzzled about why our party leaders seem so intent on saying that the reason Labour didn’t win was a failure to deal with immigration. I’m not saying that nobody mentioned it. Of course they did. But to paint it as the major reason Labour failed to win just doesn’t ring true. To say that having a harsher more intolerant immigration policy would have helped increase our share of the vote, well – that puzzles me.

That’s not to say that we can ignore immigration. Just this past weekend, the English Defence League marched through Newcastle city centre. A collection of anti-fascists marched, under the banner of United Against Fascism, at the same time from a different part of the city. Straight toward each other.

Northumbria Police did a very good job of keeping them separate, without feeling the need for shields and batons at any point. There was no trouble and there were no arrests.

Freedom of speech and freedom to demonstrate are both great things, and I cherish them. But it still sends a shudder up my spine that we have Fascists on our streets. That people feel a need for a “counter Jihadist movement”. That good men and women are happy to sit back and do nothing, in the belief that economic insecurity and the changes that globalisation has wrought can be blamed on immigrants.

How do we counter that? How does Labour address immigration without resorting to dog-whistle politics? How do we stop frustration at failures in the economy, in housing, in welfare, from being wrongly directed at immigrants?

We can’t yell bigot at the first mention of immigration. We have effectively to effectively challenge the myths and misinformation that surround immigration. People can’t get social housing because there isn’t enough social housing, not because Polish/Kurdish/Asylum Seekerish (delete as applicable to your town) families go straight to the top of the housing list.

There is unemployment because of the nature of globalised capitalism, market forces, and economic uncertainty. Not because people who have no British qualifications, and can barely speak our language, are ’stealing our jobs’. Often, these are people who have fled persecution and appalling violations of their human rights just to have a safe place to live.

The media will continue to write stories of immigrants mysteriously receiving thousands of pounds in benefits, free sky tv, palatial houses, and all the rest. And, as long as the media are happy to distort the truth, Labour needs to be happy to tell the truth.

It may be that some of those truths are uncomfortable. Some of the blame for problems falls at the feet of New Labour, after all. We must be comfortable talking about why there aren’t jobs, why services are being cut, why housing is an issue, and what the next Labour government will do to tackle the very real problems people face.

Labour needs to make the case that it doesn’t need a harsher immigration policy at all. We need to close the gap between immigration’s reality and the perception. We need to make sure immigrants aren’t an easy target for people’s economic insecurities. We need an intelligent, measured debate. We need to make that case based on facts, studies and statistics. Not on urban myth, misunderstandings and rumour.

What we definitely don’t need to do is talk about toughening up our immigration policy because it sounds like a vote winner. Labour doesn’t need to become the anti-immigration party.

It’s interesting to see the little changes and corrections to my grammar. I can see the flaws in my writing. And now, so can you, Dear Reader. Sorry for that. I’m starting to think I need to hire an editor for my blog permanently.



  1. Rob, I’m not so sure that the issue around perception and reality is ill-based. The pressure on finite resources and facilities such as housing is immense and much, but not all, is indeed down to immigration, and stating this does not make one a racist. The Office for National Statistics estimates that the population of the UK will reach 70 million by 2029 compared to 61.4 today of which 68% will be due to immigration. The Government’s own figures support this : . These pressures affect all communities including first and second generation immigrant communities themselves. We are a small island who have rightly welcomed people from former colonies but we cannot have an open-door policy without limits; do you think we can/ should? kind regards, Charles

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