Geoffrey Van Orden is Conservative MEP for the East of England. He can be contacted via email.
After the economy, Conservatives across the East of England are most concerned about immigration and ‘human rights’ legislation. This is the conclusion from a wide-ranging opinion poll that I carried out across Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire (the full results of which are available on request). Conservative Party members were asked their views of the current Coalition government, about possible changes to the voting system, about immigration and about aspects of foreign policy, including Afghanistan. Hundreds responded.
Apart from the economy, the unprompted issue of greatest concern was immigration, followed by “human rights” and health & safety laws. In answer to specific questions, the overwhelming wish was to see immigration cut (98%) with 83% wanting ‘drastic reductions’. 56% support a Royal Commission on Immigration.
On the voting system, 92% want to retain the first past the post voting system for Westminster elections with only 3% in favour of a change to an Alternative Vote (AV) system. Most were comfortable with the present Coalition government (70%) but there was insistence that the Conservative Party stand on its own manifesto at the next General Election (94%) rather than on a joint manifesto with the LibDems.
In foreign policy, most were content to see Britain’s relationships with key countries remain more or less as they are. The one country with which there was clear support for a stronger relationship was India. Troops should remain in Afghanistan ‘until the job is properly done’ say 45%, while 32% want troops out by 2014 at the latest, and just 23% say they should come out now.
I am not at all surprised by this opinion poll. All of us out and about talking to our citizens know how concerned and angry they are about immigration and the related issues, which include human rights legislation and its interpretation by the judiciary. That’s one reason why I have been calling for a Royal Commission on Immigration.
I also think most people understand the appalling economic legacy and recognize the need for broad-based support to overcome the deficit and get Britain back into growth and competitiveness. But there is concern that this need to maintain the coalition means that policies in other areas such as Europe and immigration are less robust than they might be. I am sure that is why most feel that the Conservative Party should stand on its own clear Conservative manifesto at the next elections.
There is absolutely no support for a change in the voting system. But we shall still need to campaign vigorously when the time comes.