No politician ever lost votes by saying that British citizens who can’t speak English should be able to do so – which explains why Ed Miliband pushed that view as the top line of his speech on immigration in 2012. Today, the Mail on Sunday reports that “David Cameron plans to strip welfare handouts from immigrants who cannot speak English,” adding that the Prime Minister “intends to stop printing welfare paperwork in foreign languages and prevent claimants using taxpayer-funded translators at benefits offices”. Benefits offices apparently deal with more than 140 languages, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spends £5 million on language services a year.
The move was reportedly intended to be announced tomorrow, but is being blocked by the Liberal Democrats. So Downing Street has presumably given the story to the Mail in order to help concentrate Nick Clegg’s mind. Liam Fox (who the leadership seems to be making regular use of) is quoted as saying that ‘the principle is a good one but it needs to be introduced in a way that’s fair and reasonable”. It’s hard to argue with that. “Tory sources” are “optimistic” that the proposal will be announced later this week.
The paper also claims that “the latest proposed crackdown reflects the influence of Australian-born Tory election chief Lynton Crosby. Mr Crosby is said to have given orders that the party must produce “a new policy to curb immigrants and benefits’ every week”. I hope that none of them are halted permanently by our Coalition partners, and that all of them are proof against human rights claims: after all, it wouldn’t do to announce plans that the Government then can’t deliver (unless of course they are Conservative manifesto commitments for 2015). I see that Keith Vaz is warning that though the Prime Minister’s latest proposal is “a good idea”, people could none the less sue the Government if refused benefits.
In his column in the same paper, James Forsyth quotes “a close ally” of Cameron and George Osborne as saying: “You’ve got to have a balanced message. You’ve got to have a centre-ground message”, before quoting as an example of the latter the Chancellor’s support last week for a minimum wage rise. That’s going to be rather a tall order if we are really to have a weekly policy to curb benefits and immigrants. (Some restrictions on benefits for citizens from other EU countries have already been implemented.)
In his review of the last general election campaign, Tim Montgomerie wrote that “the Tory silence on the electorate’s second biggest issue, immigration, was like Manchester United leaving Wayne Rooney on the substitutes’ bench”. If the Mail is right, we can presumably look forward to the Prime Minister not only starting with Rooney on the pitch in 2015, but playing him in all eleven positions.