Can we trust the Tories on immigration?

David Cameron's words in the leaders' debate have been picked apart. So can we trust him on immigration, an issue that Lansley wanted to "play" in the mid-1990s.

David Cameron’s words have been pored over today. It turns out that his remarks on China‘s expansionary ambitions, cancer rates in Bulgaria, Lexus purchases by the Hull constabulary, 10-year old Navy recruits, and the population of the Met’s HR department are open to question. How then can we trust his remarks on immigration?

During the discussion on the first question last night, David Cameron said:

“Immigration is simply too high at the moment. It has been these last ten years, and it does need to come down…

“It’s been too high these last few years, and I would dearly love to get it down to the levels it was in the past so it is no longer an issue in our politics as it wasn’t in the past.”

Which past is he referring to? And indeed which level would be OK? Immigration has been an issue for the Tories for years. We all remember Michael Howard’s “dog-whistle” politics of 2005 and many will recall William Hague describing Britain as a “soft touch“.

But how many remember this Guardian article by the apparently mild-mannered shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley when he was Conservative Research Director?:

“Immigration, an issue which we raised successfully in 1992 and again in the 1994 Euro-elections campaign, played particularly well in the tabloids and has more potential to hurt.”

And then, of course, Margaret Thatcher told World in Action in 1978 that “people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture”. It is, of course, possible to dig further into the past and bring out the old quotes from Enoch Powell and Peter Griffiths. It wouldn’t be fair to do so and there is no suggestion that Cameron, Hague or Lansley share their views or, indeed, Thatcher’s. But let’s hope that the rest of their party avoid the precedent set in Andrew Rosindell’s constituency where literature using the words “floodgates” was distributed.

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