On the subject of immigration, Ed Miliband was in apologetic mood this week. And not before time.
Labour has a lot to apologise for on immigration – not just the dog whistle ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ rhetoric and an attitude to the views of ordinary people that resulted in Gordon Brown’s ‘bigoted woman’ slur.
Miliband could apologise for not reintroducing the exit checks abolished by the Tories and allowing our border controls to descend into farce.
He could apologise for wildly underestimating the number of migrants from Eastern Europe when new countries joined the EU.
But if there is one thing Labour really should be sorry for it is the disgrace of child detention for immigration purposes.
Under Labour, thousands of children and young people were locked up, often for months on end, for the mistakes of their parents.
These innocent children were often left physically and emotionally scarred by their experience in conditions that have no place in a modern, civilised country.
And this was happening on an industrial scale. In Labour’s last five years in office 7,075 children were detained – four children a day.
This national tragedy was something that the Liberal Democrats campaigned against, fought to include in the Coalition Agreement, and delivered in our first year in office.
The Liberal Democrats have taken a lot of knocks since joining the Coalition but the ending of child detention is one of those decisions that remind us why it is worth having Liberals in government for the first time in generations.
As my fellow Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton said after losing a close election in Edinburgh last year, if losing was part payment for the ending child detention then “I accept it, with all my heart.”
To the critics who claim that the child detention system has been replaced and not ended, this could not be further from the truth.
The current practices for children awaiting deportation cannot be – and should not be – in any way compared to the shameful past. Children are no longer held for weeks on end as they were under Labour.
Only on the rare occasions when a family was denied entry at the border and there was no immediate return flight, have they been held in pre-departure accommodation until the next available flight, usually within 24 to 48 hours.
And the conditions they are held in simply bear no resemblance to those they replaced – prison-like centres in places like Yarl’s Wood replaced by family-friendly centres run with support from groups like Barnardos.
Getting to grips with our farcical immigration system while treating children with decency and humanity is not easy, but the Coalition is succeeding where Labour failed.
Labour has much to apologise for on immigration. It should start with child detention.
* Tom Brake is Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, and Deputy Leader of the House of Commons