Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, wants a rational debate about migration. What real chance is there of that when the default setting is that migration is a problem. Full stop. And that it is only a question of how few damned foreigners 'we' let in the country.
Of course he has only come to this conclusion because he thinks that the Labour Party faces meltdown at the next election because of mass defections of previously 'loyal' so-called white working class Labour voters to the BNP. Really he has only got himself and his avowedly racist party to blame. The Labour Party has long played the race card, slamming foreigners (especially 'foreign' prisoners) and 'illegal immigrants' whenever it suited them.
However, their playing of this 'trump card' has been even less sophisticated (or maladroit as Johnson puts it) than the BNP's. In their drive to occupy the (right of) middle ground (read: bottom of the heap or lowest common denominator) as the New Labour project, to try and be all things to all men (& the odd woman), they have ended up appealing to none; and in the meantime they have abandoned their core constituency.
In doing this they have taken on the language, and sought to occupy the battlegrounds, of middle England (read: The Sun). 'Tough on crime and tough on the cause of crime' and all those other hackneyed New Labour sound bites. Needless to say, one key battleground has been immigration, though thankfully their racism has never been as naked as The Sun's (remember the 'SWAN BAKE: Asylum seekers steal the Queen’s birds for barbecues' story from 2003?).
So of course New Labour have "shied away" from the debate about immigration, participating in it would show up the poverty of their position (the Emperor's new clothes) and just how much they have taken on the reactionary position of rags like the Mail and Telegraph. Even if Johnson were to stand up and argue that "immigration has been a good thing for this country – culturally, socially and certainly economically", no one would really believe him as he has left it 12 years too late.