PM Cameron talks tough on immigration

David Cameron has delivered a speech on immigration. It seems it is a big topic in the UK right now. How much it is in your opinion influence by the fact that UKIP is raising?

Martin Farr, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary British History, School of Historical Studies, University of Newcastle

It is partly down to the rise of UKIP, but the rise of UKIP is at least in part a product of public concerns about immigration. Moreover, and in a larger sense, UKIP has benefitted from the Government, and in particular the Prime Minister, promoting policies which, though they may have support in the country, are not regarded as being important by voters generally, and by Conservative voters in particular. Equal marriage is the most prominent recent issue. Such ‘metropolitan’ concerns allow UKIP to present itself representing what the American right calls the ‘silent majority’, and being prepared to deal directly with an issue the major parties have been reluctant to address directly: straight talking, candid, etc.

It’ no coincidence that Nick Clegg and Yvette Cooper have very recently made speeches advocating a harder stance on immigration, and as I write, the Commons is debating Jeremy Hunt’s attempt to charge non- and recent-residents for health care. Many MPs will be uncomfortable with this, but they’ll also know how popular the measure will be with the public. All the parties’ private polling shows this.

It of course also ties in with Europe/EU, which as you know is never far from the surface on the right, but which UKIP has been able to reach out to non-Conservative voters on the issue.

Robin PettittLecturer in Comparative Politics, School of Social Science, Kingston University

The issue of immigration has been on the radar for a long time, and pre-dates the rise of UKIP. Indeed, a main part of the Conservative Party’s campaign leading up to the 2010 election was go reduce immigration. However, the issue has become particularly important for Cameron at the moment because of UKIP’s rise. UKIP has changed its approach recently – where before its main target in the past was ‘Brussels’ (which became the shorthand for all things bad about the EU), their current focus is on immigration from East European EU states, especially Romania and Bulgaria.

However, Cameron’s problem is not just with immigration. The Conservative Party has followed a very heavy handed approach on immigration for awhile, and I do not believe that increasing that heavy handedness is going to help. UKIP’s rise is linked to more than just immigration, most importantly the economic crisis. people often turn against ‘foreigners’ in times of difficulty. However, Cameron is also facing the problem that he has tried to follow centrist ‘modernising’ agenda, just like Tony Blair, but from the other side. However, where Blair won a majority for his party, which kept his critics in check, Cameron did not win a majority. There are therefore many Conservative supporters who feel that the centrist line should be abandoned, and they are telling the Conservative leadership this by supporting UKIP.

So, yes, immigration is part of the explanation of UKIP’s rise and the Conservative’s extra focus on it just now, but the challenges facing Cameron go far beyond immigration.

Nicholas Randall, Senior Lecturer and Head of  Politics, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology University of Newcastle

Yes, immigration is a big issue in the UK now. Opinion polls are showing it to be the third most important issue after the economy and unemployment. This isn’t a new development however. Immigration has been a consistently salient issue in the British public’s attention for several years now.

Accordingly, the Conservatives have been seeking to pursue a tough line on immigration for many years now. In particular, they have made a high profile pledge to reduce net immigration to ‘tens of thousands’ by the next election. The Labour Party have also been toughening their stance in the belief that immigration was one of the issues which contributed to the party’s general election defeat in 2010.

So there is already something of an ‘arms-race’ between the two major parties to appear tough on immigration. Recent developments have provided further incentives for Cameron to toughen the Conservative stance further. UKIP is one factor. Opinion polling suggests that UKIP’s success is, in part, due to it tapping into public anxieties about immigration. However, another important reason is that it is becoming increasingly clear that the economic recovery which Conservatives had expected isn’t going to arrive in time for the 2015 election. Immigration is one electorally salient area where they can still take some action. Finally, we shouldn’t underestimate the role of Conservative intra-party politics. Cameron is the subject of increasing dissent and dissatisfaction within his own party. Taking a tough stance on immigration allows him to bolster his position against dissenters in his own ranks.

Bill Jones, Professor of  Politics,  Liverpool Hope University

Immigration, as in so many European countries, is a hot issue in the UK, affecting jobs, benefits and accordingly, political opinions. UKIP came second in a recent by-election to the Commons raising the fear that this anti-EU party, hitherto a bothersome but minor party, might be due to expand rapidly- it polls 16% currently compared with 29% for the Conservatives and 9% for the coalition partner Liberal Democrats. The fear of the Conservatives are twofold: that in the short-term, UKIP will deny them sufficient marginal contests in 2015 to deny them an overall majority or even the prize of being the biggest party; and long term, capture their ‘core’ vote and reduce the to representatives of merely ‘soft’ Conservatism’. In other words they see themselves in a fight to survive as UKIP grows and grows.

This does indeed explain why Cameron is so keen to sound tough on immigration.

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