"For the first time in my adult life I heard a party leader clearly attempting to deracialise the issue of immigration and to treat it like any other question of political and economic management… And given that Mr Cameron is speaking against a background in which his party’s policy inheritance is defined by Howard, Hague, Thatcher and Powell, this seems to me like a turning point in our national debate about immigration – one that will make it possible for us to speak openly and sensibly about the subject, which most of the country sees as the single-most important in politics."
Mr Cameron was on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning to talk further about his immigration policy. He attacked the Prime Minister’s "British jobs for British workers" slogan – noting that it was illegal. He described Labour as "completely incompetent". They try and control everything but end up controlling nothing, he concluded.
The Today programme had previewed the interview by caricaturing the immigration debate over the last forty years as the Tories roughly against more immigration and Labour as broadly in favour. David Cameron said that this was a false description of the reality. Over forty years, he said, both parties had been in favour of "controlled immigration" but Labour had either abandoned or failed to enforce historic controls.
The Conservative leader said that "we would benefit if actually we had slightly lower levels of net immigration" but appeared to rule out attaching a number to the promise of a cap on non-EU immigration until the party is in government. Mr Cameron said that he would not want to set a number until he possessed all of the facts – facts that would be gained after talking to local government, business leaders and those running our public services.
Editor’s comment: "Every day David Cameron is growing in standing. He handled this morning’s interview well. He is able to talk about issues like immigration in ways that were impossible for Michael Howard. The praise from Trevor Phillips is very valuable. After nearly two years of silence on bread and butter issues the party is talking again about the issues that matter to the British people and is doing so with previously elusive sensitivity. Will this new breadth from the perfectly-pitched David Cameron be enough? It might be. This week’s immigration stats blunder is just the latest example of Labour’s extraordinary incompetence. Labour’s decline and possible LibDem infighting (of which more later) may be enough to win us the next election but we shouldn’t presume so. I’m genuinely wondering whether more policy boldness will help get us a parliamentary majority or will frighten folk. I hope Lord Ashcroft’s money is investigating that question. What I do think – and there’s plenty of time to put this right if necessary – is most of our current policies are inadequate to the challenges Britain faces. This concern was expressed by Melanie Phillips on Tuesday although, also from within the Spectator family, Fraser Nelson appears to believe that the Tories are on the road to genuine radicalism. I’m open to being convinced but am not yet converted. The Tories are promising to match Labour on spending which may make significant (and economically urgent) reductions in tax and borrowing very hard to deliver. Our health reform policies are very timid although education policies are looking better and better. It is not clear that, outside of things being more competently managed, how much of a bankable difference on immigration would be possible. Will Conservatives really repatriate powers from Europe? Will we renew our armed forces? I repeat: Over time the Cameron leadership may offer convincing responses to Britain’s challenges but I don’t think they have done enough yet."