‘Don’t mention immigration!’
Immigration is a tricky one. Ipsos-Mori’s most recent thinking is that the public are concerned about the social impact of immigration in terms of community cohesion and public service provision. However, despite the concern about community cohesion, 59% of those questioned by Mori think that Britain is a place where different ethnicities get on well, compared to only 20% who think not. 17% believe that community division is caused by immigration, and 85% reject the idea that you have to be white to be British.
It is easy to paint the British public as hostile to immigration, however Mori’s figures suggest the public have mixed feelings on the issue. On the one hand they are concerned with the affects of immigration, but on the other hand are not completely critical. The conclusion is that the public expect a constructive approach from political parties which addresses concerns without ‘playing the immigration card’.
In terms of the best party on immigration YouGov currently puts the Conservatives on 37% and Labour on 13%. This significant lead is despite the fact that David Cameron has not made immigration a core campaign issue. The lead can instead be explained by the traditional perception that a Tory government would manage immigration more competently than Labour.
Modernisers argued that this natural lead was enough, and there was no more political capital to made from increasing an already substantial lead by a few more points. They also warned that a campaign in which immigration featured heavily might boost the party’s immigration ratings, but would undermine its overall rating.
The warnings of the modernisers went unheeded as the party made immigration one of its central campaign issues at the 2005 general election. Sure enough the party’s approval rating on immigration increased to 42%, a lead of 23 points. Mori gave the party an even bigger 37 point lead. However, the results of the 2005 election reflected nothing like this, despite the fact that immigration was identified as one of the public’s priority issues. 2005 proved the modernisers right.
Rather like with tax-cuts, an over-emphasis on an issue where the party already enjoyed a significant lead actually undermined the party’s electoral credibility. This, in fact, isn’t such a difficult concept to grasp, but the inevitable consequence of banging the same drum too enthusiastically, particularly one which people’s ears are so sensitive to.
Tomorrow: Tough on the ’causes’ of crime