TONY BLAIR has been tearing his remaining hair out over the crisis on immigration. This is the one issue that he did not want at the top of the political agenda.
The Prime Minister's much-criticised obsession with focus groups has means that he has always taken asylum and immigration seriously. He is also haunted by events in the traditionally tolerant Netherlands, where an anti-immigration party founded by Pim Fortuyn, who was murdered in 2002, had electoral success and booted the social democrats out of office.
"This must never happen here," was Mr Blair's edict. But now it just might. The word "crisis" is over-used, but it is not an overstatement of the atmosphere in the Government after the resignation of Beverley Hughes as Immigration minister. "Tony is exasperated," one ally told me yesterday.
Mr Blair's pain was all the more acute because he had good reason to think that the problem had been cracked. Mr Blair does not need to "take charge" of the crisis, as some newspapers suggest, because he has been "hands on" for years.
The Government hit its target to halve the number of asylum- seekers. "He thought we had tamed this monster. Now it has come back to bite us," a cabinet minister said yesterday.
The Government has a good story to tell on asylum. You would not know that from yesterday's headlines - and probably tomorrow's. The visas scam in Romania and Bulgaria which led to Ms Hughes's downfall may or may not have been an isolated incident. But perception is reality and the affair suggests the system is in chaos.
Mr Blair's three-pronged strategy was to be "tough but fair" on asylum with managed migration to help fill jobs and work hard to ensure racial integration.
The approach was based on keeping asylum and immigration separate - but that is difficult. "In the public's mind, the two are conflated," one government aide said. Ministers do not underestimate the electoral risks. Immigration may merge into a dangerous cocktail with other issues such as terrorism and Europe.
On Wednesday, the top stories on ITV News were the jailing of Andrezej Kunowski, a rapist and killer from Poland living illegally in Britain; the Commons clash between Michael Howard and Mr Blair over immigration and the eight suspected Islamic terrorists of Pakistani descent. On Thursday, The Mirror, which normally takes a tolerant stance on race relations, splashed the Kunowski story under a headline: "Let in to Kill."
Labour strategists fear these issues, under a broad "security" umbrella, could have a huge impact at the 10 June elections for the European Parliament, local authorities and the London Mayor. …