Today’s papers were largely concerned with coverage of Vince Cable’s comments on Sunday about the current furore over immigration. Following on from Nick Clegg’s comments about the illegality of leaked plans by the Home Office to try and introduce a cap of 75000 people per year coming to settle in the UK, he accused the Tories of being in a panic over the threat of UKIP stealing their votes, and likening the increasing strident proclamations to Enoch Powell’s infamous rivers of blood speech.
Vince Cable had been talking on the Andrew Marr show about what he called the periodic immigration panics that grip the UK, and referred to worries about Jewish immigration from eastern Europe in 1968. At that time, Enoch Powell made a speech about open conflict being the result of unchecked immigration, and was promptly sacked from his role on the Conservative front bench. With tensions being stoked over the last couple of weeks over the imminent ending of work restrictions in the UK for people from Romania and Bulgaria you could be forgiven to think that we had somehow slipped backwards in time over forty years.
This evening, the Conservatives began to fight back, labelling Mr Cable as a “slightly rude uncle” who was tolerated at Christmas, and questioning how he would be able to effectively work with Conservative colleagues at Cabinet level after this latest round of criticisms.
Restrictions on newcomers being able to claim benefits until after a given period of time working, and suggested policies of only granting leave to stay from certain countries if people had confirmed jobs to go to were added to by leaked proposals from the Home Office last week that the government would seek to limit the number of people allowed to enter the country and stay.
Given that this would be illegal under existing legislation without leaving the European Union entirely, and there being copious evidence that migrants tend to come to the UK to work rather than shop around for benefits, the storms currently lashing the UK seem to be only slightly less disruptive than the current turmoil experienced by the Coalition government.
As things currently stand, the Government seems to be increasingly split and the arguments are getting louder while descending into name calling. The thought that policy might actually be based on evidence and the rule of law rather than jingoistic populism seems further from reality than it has done for a long time. If anything it seems from this perspective that the Westminster Village is being driven by the dictates of the popular press than anything else – a worrying prospect at the best of times, let alone with elections not really all that far off in the future.