Magazine article The Spectator

The Silent Majority Is on Mr Howard's Side, but Will That Help Him?

Magazine article The Spectator

The Silent Majority Is on Mr Howard's Side, but Will That Help Him?

Article excerpt

Michael Howard is a Powellite, at least in one respect. Talking about immigration, Enoch Powell said that numbers were of the essence. Mr Howard would agree, although his numerical restrictions would be far less severe.

The Tory leader is really more of a Blairite. 'Every country must have firm control over immigration and Britain is no exception.' That is from Labour's 1997 manifesto; it summarises Mr Howard's views. 'We and only we decide border policy and . . . immigration, asylum and visas . . . [these policies will be] made in Britain, not in Brussels.' That was Tony Blair in late 1993, and Michael Howard could not have put it better. His disagreements arise from the PM's failure to turn deeds into words.

It is easy to make the moral case for restricting immigration. Almost any level of immigration causes social change; on a large scale it can alter the character of urban areas, and of an entire society. Many people - not only the British - prefer to live in settled, stable communities. They remain sceptical of the benefits of immigration. Those benefits do exist; cultural diversity in large cities plus a reinvigorated labour market. But in order to maximise the advantages and minimise the disadvantages, it is necessary to impose strict limits on numbers.

Despite Mr Blair's assurance, that is not happening. Legal immigration has doubled since 1997, while illegal immigration is out of control. Though the government may be retreating from the policy of allowing pubs to remain open at all times, our borders are open 24/7. When the voters are listening, Tony Blair may talk like the British bulldog. When he thinks that nobody is noticing, his government signs directives giving more and more power to the EU. 'Made in Britain, not in Brussels.' No one in Brussels thinks that this now reflects reality. Yet a nation which cannot control its own borders has ceased to be a nation.

It should not be difficult for Mr Howard to defend his new policy. It has been crafted with the help of Sir Andrew Green of Migrationwatch. He has thought as hard about the problems of immigration as anyone in Britain. With his help, the Tories should be able to justify their approach, as well as insisting that it is honest.

That deals with morality, so what about the politics? To judge by the opinion-poll data, the Tories ought to benefit. Much of the public is convinced that immigration has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. If anything, a majority of voters would want a more restrictive policy than the one which Mr Howard is proposing.

The Blairites are certainly alarmed. This is one reason why their spokesmen have not been exactly busy over the past few days. Moreover, the government is shortly launching its own immigration proposals. It is beyond even this lot's audacity to denounce the Tories one week for being inhumane and the next week for not being tough enough. Labour will also face some awkward questions about Europe. That should all be good news for Michael Howard. He has the government rattled and the silent majority on his side.

Yet it is not as simple as that. For the past few decades, right-wing politicians have dreamt of appealing over the heads of metropolitan elites to the real people, who were natural Conservatives and who, once mobilised, would be an irresistible electoral force. There have been successes, notably under Ronald Reagan and George Bush II; the word 'conservative' is now much more widely used in American political discourse than it was a generation ago. …

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