Those opposed to the current level of immigration into Britain tend to divide into two main groups. The first consists of those who believe that it reinforces a change in the character of the country for the worse: most members of this group will be relatively old and (generally) white. The second is made up of those who are less unhappy about immigration per se, but very critical of the pressure which current levels – and those experienced during the New Labour years – place on housing, public services and jobs. It consists of people from all ethnic backgrounds.
The first group will not be persuaded by any claim that the Government makes. The second are perhaps more biddable – but this morning's papers show how steep the mountainside is that Theresa May has to climb. The Financial Times reports that Ministers intend to press ahead with a trial scheme to make visitors from six countries, including India and Nigeria, pay a £3000 tourist bond. And the Daily Telegraph claims that doctors could be forced to carry out immigration checks on patients. The Home Office is pressing on – having already cut net immigration by a third. (Gross immigration is at its lowest since 2001.)
But look at the bigger, bolder headlines in some of the other papers. The Daily Mail splashes with census figures apparently showing that 500,000 migrants have been given social housing in the last decade. The Daily Express, like other papers, contrasts the urging of Matthew Hancock, the Business Minister, that British firms employ British workers with the high rate of advertising for some of those same jobs by the EU. "UK jobs up for grabs total more than those in other EU states put together," the paper says. And Nick Clegg, doubtless under pressure from his own party, is fighting back against those Home Office vans telling illegal immigrants to go home or face arrest.
It is hard to believe that more of them will leave Britain in the areas which the vans are touring than those where they are not. They must thus be seen partly as an attempt to target that second group of voters – those who might be persuaded, if the pressure on housing and services eases, that Government policy is having an effect. The view of Conservative MPs that I have spoken to recently is that this section of the public has yet to be won over – and may well not be at all. They contrast support in their seats for the welfare cap, which their constituents believe is being implemented, with suspicion about claims of falling immigration, of which those same voters are suspicious. Headlines and stories such as today's help to explain why this is so.