Stewart Jackson

If David Cameron doesn’t take immigration seriously, he’ll lose the election

Coffee House readers may remember a classic John Cleese comedy film almost thirty years ago called Clockwise. It’s the story of middle class angst, frustration, desperation and ultimate triumph at the last possible moment. It’s most memorable quote is that of Cleese to his young companion:

‘It’s not the despair Laura, it’s the hope I cant stand.’

Such is the attitude of many Conservative backbenchers as they wait for the Prime Minister’s keynote speech on his renegotiation with the European Union due before Christmas, a speech that will inevitably be seen through the prism of concern at the level of European Union citizens immigration to the UK, the growing voter salience of immigration across the country and all pollsters and the rise of UKIP which – along with gay marriage – has used the issue as a catalyst to damn the political classes or ‘Westminster bubble’ (pace Carswell) and create space for its brand of incoherent ubiquitous populism and snake oil pieties.

Why has the Conservative Party allowed UKIP to appropriate – even own – this issue? It ought not to have worked out like this. In 2012, I brought forward a 10 Minute Rule Bill called the EU Free Movement Directive (Disapplication) Bill, which sought to nuance and finesse the Directive and toughen up areas like access to welfare benefits, healthcare and housing, criminal records checks, the administration of EU migrants documentation and looked to take the best practice of other EU countries like Spain and Germany which took a more robust approach to protecting their public services, national security and labour markets.

The Government resolutely ignored me save for a few cursory meetings and it was only the Eastleigh by-election 4 months later in early 2013 and the rise of UKIP, that disabused Downing Street and Ministers of the notion that they could wrap EU migration in a pretty box and hope the voters wouldn’t notice its impact if we (correctly) shouted a lot about our economic record.

The irony is that the Government does have a pretty good story to tell on non-EU migration (generally) given Labour’s poisonous legacy but the electors are not stupid and as Boris Johnson so astutely observed recently, it’s a sense of nonchalance and insouciance and let’s be blunt, impotence which irritates voters and drives them into Farage’s arms.

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