Will talking about immigration help the Tories win?


8:55 am - April 15th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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One of these days I’m going to have a mass-debate about immigration. Frank Field MP certainly wants one. In fact he wants one so badly he think there will be riots on the streets unless the conspiracy that is stopping everyone from talking about immigration is dealt with.

So anxious is he to talk about immigration that perhaps Mr Field will lob the first molotov cocktail himself.

The other person obsessed by immigration is Tim Montgomerie from ConHome, who said last week that for the Conservatives to not talk about immigration was “Like leaving Wayne Rooney on the bench“.

I mean its not like the newspapers have been talking about it, with front page screaming headlines from the wrong statistics, that feature swivel-eyed quotes by Tory MPs. Nope, they’ve all been very silent.

The wierd thing is that I thought Tim Montgomerie was a good political strategist. But he’s either terrible or he is obsessed by immigration so much that he’s happy to give his party the wrong advice.

Poll after poll shows that immigration is about the only issue the Tories have a massive lead on. People may not believe their rhetoric on the economy or the education but they certainly believe that immigration will fall if the Conservatives get in.

In contrast Labour has little to no credibility on the issue. All those who hate immigration will already be voting Tory or UKIP. There’s no point even trying to win them back, it’s too late.

Unfortunately for the Conservatives however, immigration is not as important an issue they’d like it to be. The economy always far outweighs concerns about immigration. The same happened in 2005 and the election before that but the Tories can’t seem to get it.

The Tories can talk up immigration as much as they like from now until the election, but the impact it will have on polling, given people already buy their rhetoric on the issue, is likely to be negligible.

And anyway, the Tories can’t go any further since they neither plan to pull out of the EU (source of most immigration) nor completely ban non-EU immigration. So what would they say?

I’m somewhat taken aback to think that Tories can be so myopic on the issue.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Sunny says: “The Tories can talk up immigration as much as they like from now until the election, but the impact it will have on polling, given people already buy their rhetoric on the issue, is likely to be negligible.”

YouGov survey, 18th January 2010:
– 44% in Labour held marginals were more likely (23% much more likely) to vote Conservative if David Cameron were to say that a Conservative government would reduce immigration to 50,000 or below in order to keep the UK population below 70 million
– only 5% in these seats were less likely (2% much less likely) to vote Conservative in these circumstances
– in Lib Dem held seats the response was almost the same
– 85% of people in Labour held marginal seats, were worried (49% very worried) about the population reaching 70 million by 2029 as official figures suggest
– 75% of voters in these seats believe that the right level of net immigration to Britain was 50,000 a year or less (compared to 160,000 last year)
– 49% wanted “one in, one out” or no immigration at all.

Hundal Fail.

All that happens when the tories talk about immigration is that they remind the rest of us what a bunch of shits they are.

It’s really annoying how the electorate continues to refuse to comply with the findings of polls such as these isn’t it, LFAT?

Sunny,

If people already buy the Conservative view on immigration, which is that Labour has been deliberately and wrongly lax on allowing large numbers of immigrants into the country, then why is this not a good message to push? I’m pretty certain the strategy of showing how the current government does not serve the people, alongside the message of involving people in government, is actually the Conservative aim, and to be able to do this in an area where more people agree with them than are currently intending to vote for them would be a good idea.

I agree that on its own immigration will sway many voters (most of those so concerned will be BNP, UKIP or, from my own northern heritage, diehard Labour (there may be similiar tribal rumps in other parties I haven’t encountered). But an election is not about a discrete set of policies, but about the compotence for government and the overall package offered. And by chiselling away at things that might weaken the image of Labour being concerned for the people, the Conservatives get people to not vote for Labour (not necessarily to vote for them – but they don’t need to convert Labour voters, just reduce the number actually voting).

So I would not be surprised to see some immigration cards played, but in particular ways. Remember also, it was not the Conservatives who had a chapter ‘Crime and Immigration’ in their manifesto…

LFAT: Though how useful “would you be more likely to vote X” questions are is a matter of some debate. Here’s UK Polling Report on the subject

LfAT – the “more likely” question is not a very helpful one – someone who is planning to support the Tories reluctantly might be much more enthusiastic about voting for them if they have an immigration cap, but the Tories will get their vote either way. (Or similarly, someone who is not going to vote Tory might be “more likely” to do so if they had different immigration policies, but that only matters if they end up changing how they vote).

To prove impact on the election, you’d need examples of how many people would actually change their vote if the Tories adopted a cap or a one in, one out policy.

@1
Interesting how you view the electorate as a bunch of brainless puppets.
People who would jump as they hear the the words “reduce by 50,000”.

I take it if Cameron said “by 49,000” they still wouldn’t vote for him, right? It has to be 50,000.

Watchman:

If people already buy the Conservative view on immigration, which is that Labour has been deliberately and wrongly lax on allowing large numbers of immigrants into the country, then why is this not a good message to push?

I don’t know what Sunny will say, but here’s my ha’porth:

– The Tories are unclear re. ‘immigrants’: do they mean these from within the EU (which they can’t cap), those from everywhere else, or just those with dark(er) skins? If people are complaining about Poles and Portuguese (rather than anyone else), what’s he going to do about it?

– ‘The Dutch Auction Problem’: every time the Tories talk of capping immigration, it starts a race to the bottom. UKIP have already gone for ‘zero’, so where does that leave the Tories?

– ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ Does Cameron want to risk the obsessives and the bigots going off-message on the one topic almost guaranteed to remind everyone of the more unpleasant attitudes in the Tory party?

– Having got business onside re. NI, do they want to alienate them over the use of migrant labour (whether in the City or elsewhere)?

And lastly, if the Tories want to cap immigration now, how will they argue for raising the cap, given the obsession with reducing numbers that drives so much of what passes for ‘debate’ on this topic?

redpesto,

Hence my point that this is not a vote winner for the Conservatives, but still potentially a vote loser for Labour. I occasionally get to play a fun game, where I chat with a Labour supporter and just drop into conversation a number of areas where they have not helped people; it tends to result in a thoughtful look and presumably a reconsideration of what Labour stand for (at least temporarily): civil liberties are good if you want to play this game and you mostly interact with middle-class educated types, but I suspect immigration may work better in other areas.

The weird thing is that I thought Tim Montgomerie was a good political strategist. But he’s either terrible or he is obsessed by immigration so much that he’s happy to give his party the wrong advice.

But the “we’re not allowed to talk about immigration” meme is one of the great political strategies of the last decade!

Since 2001 when Hague accused Labour of being “soft” on immigration, through to our mass moral panic over Asylum numbers [1] in the following years, to the constant stream of misinformation from the Press (all corners, no papers are saints here), to the foundation of MigrationWatch and the optimum population trust etc, to the 2005 Con election campaign, to fake universities, to “importing” muslim terrorists, to BBC documentaries on migrant workers… we have rarely seen a public debate so full of discussion on migration.

But it suits those who want to restrict it to pretend they’re some sort of insurgency bravely sticking it to the man “who won’t let them talk about immigration”. Despite this disgrace in Labour manifesto.

Montgomerie knows this, that’s why he’s a good tactician.

[1] The increase in the start of the 2000s was due to there being more refugees in general and relative tightening of European restrictions on the,

What is also delicious from my point of view is that increased migration and a growing population makes the UK debt’s burden easier to manage. It must suck for the Tories to be so obsessed with the National Debt but be unable to suggest something which would help us reduce it.

Good analysis from Left Outside @10.
I agree fully.

Interestingly, the Conservative manifesto only mentions immigration three times (by my count). Labour? 23…

I find the “we’re not allowed talk about immigration” line fascinating. Maybe it’s a case of being too close to the issue to see it clearly, but as someone who takes a keen interest in British media and politics from outside the country, let me assure you that immigration is talked about constantly in the UK.

15. Simon Pollock

“In contrast Labour has little to no credibility on the issue [amongst the public]…”

Admission from Sunny that his views on the matter which are far to the left of Labour have even less credibility?

“And anyway, the Tories can’t go any further since they neither plan to pull out of the EU (source of most immigration) nor completely ban non-EU immigration.”

Incorrect. 1 in 4 under Labour has been from the EU.

The “we can’t discuss immigration” meme is strongly felt because no one was asked, the immigration policy pursued by successive governments has never been up for debate and never openly examined. Why wonder then that support for multiculturalism is disintegrating? The politicians decided not to solicit the views of those who would be asked to live it.

LFAT – you’re ‘havin a bubble mate!

Just because those people said they are likely to vote Tory doesn’t mean they are not planning already to do so. Stop being so obtuse. The figure to look at isn’t necessarily about who is more likely under specific conditions – because they may already be there. It is about what perceptions already are. If someone was passionate about stopping immigration – there is almost no chance they are planning to vote Labour now.

Unfortunately for you guys, that number of people obsessed by immigration isn’t that high across the country.

“Workers from outside the EU make up just one fifth of all immigrants when students are excluded”

“Fewer than 30,000 people sought asylum in Britain in 2009”

“Most unskilled non-European (other than relatives of British residents) are banned already, so it is the well-qualified, well-paid ones who would face exclusion if controls were tightened.”

This week’s Economist; page 14 of their special report.

The ‘ we can’t talk about immigration ‘ is hilarious. The obsessives talk about nothing but immigration. Why didn’t the Tories ask the UK business leaders at the same time they were fretting about NI, what they thought about migrant workers? Oops they would have said can we have some more.

19. Simon Pollock

“Workers from outside the EU make up just one fifth of all immigrants when students are excluded”

Guardian, Tuesday 1 April 2008 http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/apr/01/immigrationpolicy.immigrationandpublicservices1
“Net immigration has added 1.5 million people to the population over the last 10 years. Two-thirds of them have come from the continents of Asia and Africa…

In 2006 the largest numbers of immigrants were born in Africa and the Middle East (3% of the working age population) and the Indian sub-continent (2.5%). Those born in the east and central European EU member states – the A8 – made up 1% of the working age population. Today A8 immigrants account for one in three of new immigrants since 2004.”

The pattern did change as The Economist indicates but the problem for Sunny maintaining his “they’re all east europeans” idea is that the A8 immigrants are not settlers, the Africans and Asians who dominate the net migration figures are.

Sunny rolled out the ‘all the migration has been mostly east europeans anyway’ again during the debate last night. Again, incorrect. A matter of prejudice on his part I suspect.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Will talking about immigration help the Tories win? http://bit.ly/cJQyEU

  2. Immigration Tips

    Liberal Conspiracy » Will talking about immigration help the …: One of these days I'm going to have a mass-debat… http://bit.ly/alojo0

  3. sunny hundal

    Will talking about immigration help the Tories win? http://bit.ly/bPhuXb – I argue that it won't

  4. UnitasCommunications

    RT @pickledpolitics: Will talking about immigration help the Tories win? http://bit.ly/bPhuXb – I argue that it won't





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