There’s a rumour doing the rounds that Anna Soubry’s comments on immigration during Thursday night’s edition of Question Time did not come as a surprise to Tory High Command. Apparently, Soubry refused to take direction from the party machine and made clear that she would say, more or less, what she said.
Coalition has certainly bred independent-minded ministers. The Lib Dems pick and choose which government policy to support in public, so it’s not wholly surprising that Tories sometimes follow suit. But, tough immigration policy is a key part of the Tories’ grand strategy and Soubry’s open disregard for the party line was striking. Plainly Lynton Crosby and Craig Oliver are more loved than feared…
That said, Soubry gave a compelling rendition of Ken Clarke’s approach to UKIP: attack Farage, don’t ape their rhetoric and don’t pander with ill-conceived policies. The political aim of this man and ball tactic is to appeal to the liberal-minded middle classes, while the policy aim is to address internal demand for mass (low or unskilled) immigration. This is done by opening a general offensive on low standards in secondary education, entrenched welfarism, the high cost of living, housing shortages and so forth. Regulatory reforms are also envisaged to ensure that borders are properly policed, that competitive employment law is enforced and that landlords do not pack migrants into slum flats.
There was an interesting exchange between Soubry and Farage the other night. Soubry said that the central problem in the immigration debate are those people who choose not to work. Farage replied, ‘they’re discriminated against’. Both statements are true; but, while Soubry’s comments are designed to appeal to ‘hardworking families’, Farage is appealing to the increasingly workless classes. That distinction may yet come to define the 2015 election.