There is something a little pitiful watching Gordon Brown tell the country how worried he is about immigration, and how it must not be a taboo issue. Like watching a paralytic drunk explaining in slurred tones how he will never touch another drop, and all the while you can smell the paint-stripper on his breath.

There is no issue — with the possible exception of Iraq — on which Labour has been more deceitful to the public at large, or has more egregiously betrayed its core working-class support. The only reason Brown is addressing the issue now is that we are six months away from an election and he fears that the troglodyte BNP thickoes will chew away great big gobfuls of angry working-class voters across a diagonal swathe of supposedly Labour country, from the white-flight satellite towns of Essex to the old mill towns of east Lancashire.

It is little more than lip service from the prime minister and, worse, unaccompanied by even the vaguest admission that his government has let its people down.

We know from the Labour backbencher Chris Mullin’s diaries that ministers would not address the issue of immigration because they were terrified of being called racist: so they did nothing. More recently, the former home office adviser Andrew Neather suggested that the Labour government threw open the doors to vast numbers of immigrants precisely in order to create a truly multicultural Britain, whether or not the British public wanted such a thing (every opinion poll suggests that they did not).

Labour ministers insist that the previous Conservative government was lax on immigration, too — but that is a specious argument. In 2006 nearly 600,000 immigrants entered Britain, more than 10 times the number who arrived in the last year of John Major’s government; the scale of difference has been beyond reasonable comparison. We should be clear: immigration is primarily Labour’s mess, and it was a deliberate policy.

Even now the argument will be queered by the usual platitudinous drivel; that while addressing this important issue we must all nonetheless embrace the vibrancy of multicultural diversity. The people who always preface their answers with this sort of statement tend not to have lost their jobs to cut-price plumbers, electricians, fruit pickers and so on.

You cannot have it both ways: Brown wishes to capture the votes of the white working class by talking about immigration but not actually doing anything about it. They in turn resent, rightly or wrongly, the fact that their communities have been changed beyond recognition; that street crime figures are up exponentially; that it’s harder to acquire social housing; and that they are priced out of jobs. This is unpalatable to many, but it is how a lot of people feel.

It would be far more honest of the government if it said: tough luck, Labour voters — we want a cheaper unskilled and semi-skilled workforce and we have no moral or intellectual objection to your towns and cities being transformed by huge numbers of people who may not share your cultural values. That, after all, has been the policy of the government for the past 12 years, even if it is one it has not dared to articulate but has instead pursued by a sort of cack-handed stealth.

Nor, aside from the carefully nuanced rhetoric, is there very much in the prime minister’s speech which offers a solution to the problem. For example, he wishes councils to look more kindly on social housing applications from long-term local residents — but of course the councils are statutorily required to offer housing first to the homeless and an awful lot of immigrants are, de facto, homeless when they arrive.

None of this is the fault of the recent immigrants themselves, of course, who are behaving much as we would all behave in similar circumstances; and in the main, I don’t believe those working-class voters blame the immigrants either. They know who to blame — and crocodile tears shed a few months before polling day tend to confirm, rather than dissipate, that blame.