David Cameron and Ed Miliband engaged in an inglorious exchange of taunts about immigration. Neither man had anything convincing to say, so each of them shouted “tu quoque” and demanded that the other man say sorry. When Miliband rose to speak, he had a haunted look, as if he had just seen a ghost. He can’t enjoy this kind of argy-bargy, or feel it was why he got involved in Labour politics.
Cameron boasted, as well he might, about the record fall in the number of unemployed people. But no one made the connection between this and the number of immigrants. If this country is known to have work, energetic and enterprising people will want to come here to do that work. Their arrival is a kind of compliment: they know this is a free and flourishing kingdom, so they make great efforts to get here. The problem is one of success: not that it suited either Miliband or Cameron to make that point, or to observe that there are parts of the country, from the NHS to the universities to the City of London, where the contribution made by immigrants is indispensable.
Nor, unless I missed something, did anyone allude to the rapidity with which many immigrants, at all levels of society, come to glory in the name of Briton. There is a generous patriotism which can unite almost everyone, if politicians can only find the words to express it. But Miliband, who nicked the “One Nation” slogan from the Tories, seems unable to fill those words with content, while Cameron, who ought to be able to demonstrate what it means to be a modern, One Nation Tory, instead adopts, in his determination to squash Miliband, a scornful and exclusive tone.
The two leaders ranted at each other in a manner which seemed designed to try to win back voters who have gone over to UKIP, but without offering any solid reasons why such people should return to either Labour or the Conservatives. No new ideas were floated for the control of our borders. There was instead something rather frightened and desperate about the whole performance. This was a good half-hour for Nigel Farage. He set the agenda.
The most depressed looking man in the House was Nick Clegg. But his neighbour, Michael Gove, looked quite perky, his lips twitching as mischievous thoughts occurred to him. Perhaps in the Chief Whip’s eloquent mind a more humane, magnanimous and humorous conservatism is even now evolving.