Chris Moncrieff: Immigration becomes the key issue at polls

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IT’S the economy, stupid. That was the crude message once delivered to the American electorate, but surprisingly, the economy may be relegated to second place in this country at next May’s general election.

Immigration could now become the principal issue. The other day Jose Manuel Barroso, outgoing president of the European Union, had this blunt message for the Prime Minister; that a cap on migration within the EU was incompatible with EU law, and would not be allowed.

Barroso also said that if Britain did withdraw from the EU its influence in Europe as a whole would be “zero”.

Tory politicians have been saying this is merely the sort of response you would get from these Brussels grandees, whose object in life seems to be to reduce the influence of the British Parliament.

Even so, it does demonstrate that David Cameron has a mighty and seemingly impossible task to persuade the Brussels mob of the wrongheadedness of their case.

What right have they to tell us that we should accept, uncomplaining, swarms of eastern Europeans to our shores, flooding the jobs market and, in some cases, demanding housing ahead of native Britons?

The whole principle is so obviously wrong yet the grandees of Brussels seem totally immune to the logic and common sense with which they are presented on this issue.

Former Cabinet Minister Kenneth Clarke has appealed to the Prime Minister to make the economy, rather than immigration, the main issue when the nation goes to the polls next May.

But if Cameron wants to keep the Conservatives in Government, he will ignore this appeal.

A FLASH in the pan or something more enduring? The answer to that question – which is about the longevity or otherwise of Ukip – might be found at least in part at the upcoming critical by-election in Rochester and Strood.

Ukip’s hugely impressive performances at Clacton, which they won handsomely, and at the very different seat of Heywood and Middleton, where they all but ousted Labour, suggest they are something much more than a simple here-today-gone-tomorrow outfit.

The Liberal Democrats seem to be heading for the scrapheap, as a laughing stock in danger of being replaced as one of the three big political parties in this country.

One of Ukip’s great advantages is in doing what they think people want, not, like the other parties, of doing what they think the people ought to want.

And Barroso’s unequivocal slamming of the door in the face of the Prime Minister over the question of regulating immigration looks like an invitation to Ukip to hoover up yet more dissidents from Labour and the Conservatives.

Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband will be crossing their fingers, hoping against hope that the outcome at Rochester and Strood will not be as dire as many commentators have predicted.

But after the two recent by-elections, I think we can safely say they are prepared for the worst. Clumsy Cameron helped to set in the rot for theTories by his incredibly stupid comment that members of Ukip were loonies, fruitcakes and closet racists.

Meanwhile, it is no coincidence that Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, recently took tea and fruitcake in the House of Commons the other day...

WELFARE Minister Lord Freud’s clumsily worded remark at a fringe meeting of the Conservative Party conference that some disabled people were probably not worth the minimum wage predictably produced howls of rage and hand-wringing.

His remark, which was secretly recorded was put in storage for a couple of weeks, so Ed Miliband could ambush the Prime Minister with it.

What Miliband and co failed to 
think through though was that companies, if they employ disabled people, are compelled to pay them the minimum wage even when these people – through no fault of their own, are incapable of earning it – and therefore could be in danger of going out of business.

This might mean fewer disabled 
people will be employed at all.

However, if Lord Freud makes this point again, he would be well advised to get his words in the right order.

Chris Moncrieff is a former political editor of the Press Association.