David Cameron is set to give his big immigration speech this coming week, according to the Sunday Times, while James reports that Labour is to turn up the volume on the subject too. Both party leaderships are under pressure from their backbenches to take the Ukip threat seriously and give voters a clear sense that they would crack down on immigration.
Both parties do need to deal with their legacies. Labour’s one has been much-picked-over and apologised for. But the Tories are also realising that they won’t have as much to boast about come the election as they’d hoped. That’s why Theresa May today finally moved from using weird words such as ‘comment’ to describe the Tory net migration target and accepted that the party just won’t meet it. She told the Andrew Marr Show:
‘But it is of course unlikely that we’re going to reach the tens of thousands by the end of the Parliament. Why is that? It’s because we’ve seen increasing numbers of people coming from across Europe, partly because our economy is doing better than other economies in Europe, and we’ve been doing what we can in relation to EU migration. But there is of course more to be done.’
Best to get the tricky bit about a promise you couldn’t keep out of the way before the speech in which you make a load more promises that you want voters to think that you can keep.
But there is a bigger question about whether this louder volume from both parties will make the right sort of difference. Both hope that speeches and shiny new policies and the like will convince would-be Ukip voters that they are taking one of their primary concerns seriously. Not talking about immigration is, as every guest on every political panel show now says almost robotically, a bad thing. But there is still a risk that making many speeches and coming up with many promises on the subject will only reinforce the Ukip narrative. Voters will see the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition talking about immigration and conclude that Ukip clearly do have a point. They may then conclude that the party to vote for is Ukip, thus making the speeches from the mainstream parties not just pointless but also damaging.
Part of this is about trust in the main parties, who have both got things wrong on immigration. The Tories also realise that part of it is about voters’ general worries about the economy and that’s why, as James reports in his column, there was pressure on the Prime Minister to move the ‘game-changing’ speech to before the Autumn Statement so that the Tories can deal with this issue and then move back to the issue on which they beat both Labour and Ukip, the economy.