Tories need UKIP credibility to decline not increase

Jon Owen Jones comments on how immigration is being dealt with by the UK parties in the run-up to the general election

The public in all parts of the UK believe there should be less immigration, and even recent immigrants tend to agree. But how to respond is presenting dilemmas for each of the UK parties.

The latest threat or fear is that Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants will take advantage of new employment opportunities next month and come to the UK in large numbers. In part this concern is also about the Roma population in these countries and their ability or willingness to assimilate.

Each party is faced with difficulties. Labour in office helped to create the problem, especially by allowing freedom of movement to Polish workers in advance of other EU countries doing so. Labour’s position now is that it acknowledges its previous mistake and calls on the government to get tougher.

The Liberal Democrats have been the most immigrant friendly party but are now also favour a tough government response.

The Conservatives have always had a tougher line than other parties and have suffered in some ways because of it – it feeds the perception of a nasty party and it costs votes in ethnic communities. Today they have two particular problems. Firstly it is very difficult within treaty obligations to restrict immigration; and, secondly, whatever they do they will always be outbid by UKIP.

The recent measures announced by the Coalition neatly illustrate their problem. New restrictions will be imposed on the ability of EU immigrates to claim benefits here. All the UK parliamentary parties are in favour but it is doubtful if there will be much practical effect. It has already caused a dispute with EU Commissioners but that will probably be perceived as a positive result in Downing Street.

What has been the public response? Two polls earlier this month show Conservative support at 28 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. The same polls give the highest ever figures to UKIP, at 19 per cent and 15 per cent. Conservatives need around 40 per cent electoral support to be the largest parliamentary party and more than that to form a stable majority government. The numbers only fit for the political right in Britain if you add UKIP and Tory support together.

In the coming 12 months are three electoral hurdles which will have some influence on the general election in 2015. In May the European elections are held, as are council elections in 160 English Authorities. Unless there is some scandal involving UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage I will be astonished if they do not make large gains in both contests. They may gain the largest number of EU seats, certainly in England.

At the same time, the turn out will be derisory and electors will not behave in the same way in the 2015 general election. Those will be the comforting words in Downing Street. However, of less comfort will be the realisation that UKIP’s momentum continues and its financial strength and local government and activist base grows. Tories need UKIP credibility to decline not increase.

The third electoral hurdle will be in September with the SNP’s independence referendum in Scotland which will have consequences for us all. The irony for the Conservatives is that their best hope of winning in May 2015 is to lose in September 2014.

Jon Owen Jones is a former Welsh Office Minister and Labour MP for Cardiff Central.

8 thoughts on “Tories need UKIP credibility to decline not increase

  1. Mr Jones clearly doesn’t understand the educated electorate. When it isn’t important use your vote to protest. When it is important use your vote wisely. We will see this in the Scottish referendum vote. And in the following general election.

    To suggest otherwise, is just plain daft!

    (ps. I do wish it were otherwise …. I for one would happily vote to insulate the rest of the UK from a belligerent Scotland)

  2. Yvonne is right. The electorate are far more intelligent than people think. We should all have a vote on whether to leave the EU, which most people want, and we should all have a vote in the Scottish Referendum, so that we can strengthen the UK and reject Scottish extremism.

  3. Support for both the Conservatives and UKIP is very friable at the moment, which means it could be quite easy for David Cameron to win if he adopts the right strategy, and equally easy for him to lose if he does nothing.

    To win, he first has to admit he has a problem. He needs to abandon the ‘triangulation’ strategy of trying to win over a largely non-existent ‘uncommitted centre’ that failed so disastrously in 2010. Instead he must focus on people who might actually vote Conservative. He needs to answer their question, ‘How will I, my family, my country, and the things in which I believe be advanced by having a Conservative government?’ He needs to understand that many feel let down by the Coalition – including Unionists, civil libertarians, religious conservatives, and the small business sector. He also needs to understand that it is not enough to frighten them with the Labour bogeyman: Ed Miliband’s low rating has not kept Labour back in the polls because there is still a general perception, right or wrong, that Blair cured Labour of Socialism.

    Finally he has to understand that this is not so much about individual policies but about culture: Mr Cameron sometimes seems to act as if he thinks his own target voters are ‘nasty’. If he wants to win, he needs to show he respects and sympathises with them. He has the personal charm to do this very effectively. The question many of us who would actually quite like to believe in him are still asking after the debacle of 2010 is whether he has the passion for the triumph of the things we value that is essential in any successful leader.

  4. There has been a big swing in public opinion in recent years. It use to be true that the majority of the electorate regarded the EU without great enthusiasm but accepted that membership had advantages on balance. More fundamentally, they didn’t care that much either way and were turned off by signs of fanaticism for or against the EU. That has changed and there has been a groundswell making a majority now antipathetic to the EU and ready to believe any nonsense published in the anti-European press. What caused this switch? Was it just East European immigration? Perhaps someone who has undergone the conversion could let the rest of us know what is going on.

  5. Yvonne:

    “…reject Scottish extremism”

    The Scots will decide in 2014 whether they want Scotland to be governed by Scots in Edinburgh, where they will have governments elected by the Scottish people after independence, or continue to be governed from Westminster, where more often than not there are governments which the Scottish people did not support, such as the present Government.

    What on earth is extreme about that?

    There is nothing sacrosanct about the UK. In its present guise it has only existed since 1922. Ask yourself how many countries and peoples have divested themselves of London rule since 1945, and how many have wished to return to that condition. The answer to the first question is dozens, and to the second, zero. Do you think that the population of the UK should have had a say in the decisions made in those countries about their independence? Such a notion is plainly ridiculous.

  6. To use Mark Jones’ bizarre rationale, every voter in the EU should be able to vote in a referendum on future UK membership of the European Union….so as to be able to ‘strengthen’ the EU and reject British ‘extremism’…

  7. Yvonne sounds like the extremist.

    Nelson Mandela said “To deny a people their human rights is to deny their humanity”. I think I got the quote right.

    Unionist Nationalists don’t even want the Scots to have a vote, like in Catalunya.

    Why? Because they’re extremists who deny the Scots (Catalans and the Welsh) their humanity.

    John Redwood said “It is the right of ALL NATIONS to rule their own affairs and their DUTY so to do”.

    Probably one of the few things he got right.

  8. The general thesis is correct. In the 2010 general election the combined UKIP + BNP vote cost the Tories up to 40 seats – yes we sat down and made a list. Obviously it’s a subjective assessment but it was certainly 30 plus.

    Perhaps THE most annoying negative result of all for the Tories was in the Morley & Outwood Constituency (on the edge of Leeds) where the BNP and UKIP vote clearly kept Ed Balls in Parliament! That’s a monumental fail if ever there was one…

    I can’t imagine what kind of additional UKIP scandal would actually overcome the people’s anger against the Lib-Lab-Con destruction of the UK as we knew it so I would tend to view UKIP scandals on the basis that any publicity is good publicity. On this basis I expect UKIP + a declining BNP to cost the Tories the best part of 100 seats in 2015 unless they undergo the political equivalent of the conversion of Saul. In this case it means an in-out EU referendum within a year or, better still, just invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without a referendum since there is no requirement to hold one.

    That’s about the only thing that will save the Tory Party now because most people seem to understand that both the distant referendum promises and impossible claims of renegotiating the existing treaties are just a Tory Europhile stalling tactic to keep us in the EU at any cost – which includes being unable to control our own borders.

    Farage is unlikely to forget to remind us all that the Rapporteur for Bulgaria joining the EU was none other than the Conservative MEP Geoffrey van Orden!

    The more the facts are known the less credibility Cameron’s Tories will have…

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