The claim in some quarters that Conservative Party members take the hardest line on immigration available, regardless of context, should be thrown into question by this first finding from our special general election survey.
Of course, it will be argued that students have nothing really to do with the migration figures, since their admission is temporary unless they are later given leave to stay – a case that has evidently persuaded our Party member respondents.
Three in five of them want students out of the figures. One in three of them think otherwise. That’s emphatic support for what is the more liberal of the two positions.
It will be counter-argued, of course, that this view is wrong – first, because some students over-stay and, second, because other countries include students in the figures, and therefore we should too. Andrew Green has put the case for keeping the present arrangement on ConservativeHome many times.
There has been pressure on Theresa May, first as Home Secretary and now as Prime Minister, to take students out of the figures: the Treasury, the Business Department and higher education ministers tend to want change.
The Prime Minister’s bottom line seems to be that any relaxation of the present regime will simply be read by voters as politicians fiddling the figures. She will not be moved, it seems. But she now has a reminder of what party members think – which is much the same as they did when we last polled them on the matter in 2014.
You will note the big response rate to the survey – that’s the effect of general elections for you. Readers as a whole backed change by 53 per cent to 37 per cent, showing themselves to be more cautious than our party member respondents.