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To Respond To Defeat In Clacton, The Tories Will Need A Tougher Immigration Policy

Last Updated: Friday, October 10th, 2014

Everyone expected the UKIP candidate, Douglas Carswell, to win in Clacton, but few people thought he would win by the enormous margin of 12,404 votes. An exceptionally rude kick has been administered to David Cameron.

It is not much consolation for the Conservatives that a scarcely less rude kick has been administered to Ed Miliband in the other by-election, Heywood and Middleton, where most observers expected Labour to win, but few foresaw that UKIP would be a mere 617 votes behind.

Miliband and his advisers hope UKIP will damage the Conservatives more than it damages Labour. They have therefore indicated that they will not make an all-out attempt to win the next by-election, in Rochester and Strood, which has been caused by the defection of a second Tory MP, Mark Reckless, to UKIP.

This passivity by Miliband has enraged some of his activists. They think that if Labour wishes to portray itself as the main alternative to the Conservatives in the general election next May, it simply cannot afford to sit out a by-election in this way. Until 2010, Rochester was a Labour seat, and the party should be doing all it can to regain it.

Cameron is certainly obliged to do all he can to win in Rochester. He faces a danger, but also an opportunity. If the Conservatives can win that by-election, they will have demonstrated that they can recover from a setback – the defection of Reckless – and can learn how to connect with disgruntled working-class voters.

But to do that, Cameron has got to develop a stronger position on immigration. On Monday, I visited Rochester for ConHome (see below). Immigration is a very big issue there. You do not need to ask voters about it: in many cases they start telling you about it whether you ask them or not.

Rochester is, in my opinion, winnable for the Conservatives. Reckless is far less popular than Carswell, and at least some voters regard him and UKIP as no better or nobler than the rest of the political class.

But what is the Conservative message on immigration? At the party conference in Birmingham, ConHome devoted a fringe meeting to this subject. Owen Paterson MP observed that immigration is “a huge recruiting agent” for UKIP, which is “quite ruthless” at exploiting the issue.

Paterson went on to point out that Norway, Switzerland and Australia all have higher levels of immigration than the United Kingdom: so the idea promoted by UKIP that if only we leave the European Union, we shall be able to cut immigration, is wrong. To have a thriving economy, Paterson insisted, we need relatively open borders.

The Conservatives are nevertheless going to have to tell voters that this is a power which should rest at national, not European level. If we want to get foreigners to staff our health service, or pick our strawberries, or study in our universities, or keep London as one of the world’s great commercial centres, the responsibility for working out how to do this must rest with British politicians.

Complaints about immigration often take the form of complicated and unverifiable stories about foreigners who come here in order to take advantage of our benefits system. It strikes people as deeply unfair that new arrivals can claim benefits without having ever paid anything in to the system. Here too the Conservatives need a clear policy, perhaps involving a moratorium on all claims for the first year or two, in order to reassure people that our welfare system is not being exploited.

In his acceptance speech in Clacton, Carswell said: “We must be a party for all Britain and all Britons: first and second generation as much as every other.” Unlike Nigel Farage, he presents himself as a One Nation politician. This is something the Tories are going to have to show they can do better than Carswell, if they are to win not just in Rochester but at the general election.

By Andrew Gimson

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Paul Goodman: Yes a great night for UKIP. But what will matter most next May is the marginals  Will UKIP take more from Labour than the Conservatives in the blue-red marginals?  This is perhaps the key question for next spring – since whether it takes more from either of the two main parties in their “safe” seats matters less.  A Lord Ashcroft poll last May in marginal seats found more former Conservative voters than Labour ones among UKIP voters; the July poll found it picking up Labour votes.  A recent Fabian Society study suggested that UKIP will indeed damage Labour more than the Conservatives in some key seats.  The conventional wisdom to date (and the sum of the betting markets when I last looked) is that reverse is true.  If it isn’t, then David Cameron’s chances of making it back to Downing Street should be revised upwards. Read more: http://bit.ly/1st2aaO

Andrew Gimson: The Conservatives have a good chance of winning in Rochester and Strood   In Rochester, few voters mentioned Mr Reckless by name, except for a number of people who thought he had behaved badly. He has contested this seat since the general election of 2001, very nearly won it in 2005 and actually managed to take it in 2010, but over this considerable period of time he has not built a personal connection with the voters to rival Mr Carswell’s. At the Eagle Tavern, a friendly pub next to a stretch of Rochester’s medieval and Roman walls, there was a strong ‘plague on all your houses’ feeling about the various political parties, including UKIP. In Clacton, I had found a strong desire to kick the established parties by supporting Mr Carswell. In Rochester, there was no sign of comparable support for Mr Reckless, and a greater tendency not to vote for anyone at all. Read more: http://bit.ly/Zd3XVl

Edward Leigh MP: The mistakes by our party that helped UKIP gain its first MP  A whole host of errors conceived or approved of by Tory bigwigs has fostered the steady loss of votes to the Faragists: the deliberate policy of triangulation, the coalition with the Liberals, increased taxes on the middle classes, cuts to the armed forces, failed and wasteful green policies, failing to deliver the promised referendum on Lisbon, the massive increase in international aid spending, and controversial and revolutionary social policies such as same-sex civil marriage…It might help if the front bench was more reflective of the party: not a single male MP who voted for a referendum on Europe (against a three-line whip) has been given any promotion, and those right-wingers who have made it have been forced to stand on their heads for a lot of the time. Read more: http://bit.ly/ZTmVla

Iain Duncan Smith MP: Clacton – the end of the beginning   I spent some time in Clacton campaigning and was again struck by how clear-sighted the voters were. What they made clear to me was their frustration, as many had been badly hit by Labour’s great recession, struggling with lower salaried jobs and often falling behind with their mortgages. Although they could see the economy was improving and their prospects were better, they still felt that lack of security for them and their families. They were also frustrated about what they perceived as an influx of immigrants, mostly from Europe, they were adamant that they wanted this controlled in or out of the EU and they wanted to have their say on whether we left the EU. They were also disenchanted with what they perceive as Westminster insincerity. Read more: http://bit.ly/1tJ2DlA

Iain Dale: The Lib Dems are like cattle being loaded up to go to the abattoir   The Lib Dems were in Glasgow, which has the worst conference centre of them all. Cavernous, hot, lacking in atmosphere, it almost swallowed up the Lib Dems. Bearing in mind they’re politically f***** they seemed in remarkably good humour, as if they had a collective belief that it would all come right in the end. Sorry, guys. It won’t. I spoke at a fringe meeting where I went through all their constituencies and told them if they retained more than half of them I’d be very surprised indeed… It all reminded me of my childhood, when I would stand by and watch the calves being loaded into the cattle truck to be taken to the abattoir. They cheerfully trotted up the ramp. Read more: http://bit.ly/ZimdfZ

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