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A crackdown on immigration and on benefits abuse? The Tory leadership ought to be careful…

By Peter Hoskin
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Take a run through this morning’s papers, and you’ll clatter into this story in the Mail on Sunday. It details a ‘secret Chequers summit’ that will be attended, later this week, by the ‘Fab four’ of David Cameron, George Osborne, Ed Llewellyn and Lynton Crosby. Apparently, this summit will focus on party strategy for 2015 – in particular, Mr Crosby’s notion that ‘curbing immigration and abuse of state hand-outs is key to winning the Election’.

Mr Crosby, it should be admitted, is no slouch when it comes to winning elections – and there are reasons, both practical and political, to curb immigration and benefits abuse. I won’t rattle off all of the problems with the welfare and immigration systems here, except to say that many of them are encapsulated by the report in today’s Sun about Anjem Choudary and his exhortation to claim “Jihad Seeker’s Allowance”. And then there are all the column inches expended on migration from Romania and Bulgaria, which is set to be one of the fiercest political issues of the year.

Besides, opinion polls suggest that some Crosby-approved policies go down well with the public. A recent digest by the Migration Observatory revealed that three-quarters of people want to see immigration cut. Measures such as the benefits cap remain soaringly popular.

But the Tory leadership still ought to be wary about where this might lead. Take immigration: as Nadhim Zahawi has argued, there is actually a case for lifting some of the restrictions imposed by the Government, particularly when it comes to foreign students. I shall be writing about this at greater length in the not-too-distant, so suffice to say, for now, that the decline in student visas threatens to suck £billions from our economy and £millions from our universities. It will be Brits who suffer, more than anyone else, as this money emigrates elsewhere.

And where benefits are concerned, the party should resist falling back on lazy and pernicious rhetoric about “shirkers” and “scroungers”. Not only does this overlook the broader truth of the situation, as Greg Clark has recently written for ConservativeHome. It also denies the moral impetus behind Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms, which is to help the workless back into the labour market. David Cameron would do better to remember the words of his 2009 conference speech: “it falls to us, the modern Conservative party to fight for the poorest who [Labour] have let down.”

And there is a more general concern, too. Mr Cameron recently told his MPs that the Tories’ focus at the next election will be on aspiration and on “raising the nation up”. This can certainly overlap with a tough line on welfare dependency; less obviously so with immigration. But there’s a risk that an essentially positive message will be muddied, perhaps even overwhelmed, by something more negative.


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