Voters no longer believe the Conservatives can, or really want to, control immigrationby Matthew Goodwin / October 2, 2015 / Leave a comment
As Conservatives gather for their conference in Manchester they have much to celebrate. Five months ago, David Cameron and his party increased their share of the national vote. Though a growth of less than 1 per cent, it was enough to deliver a majority government. Cameron’s strategists secured the largest number of seats for their party since 1992—an outcome that nearly every pollster and academic forecaster failed to predict. The election of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership has ensured that his party will almost certainly fail to build a viable election coalition this side of 2020. The future looks incredibly bright for British Conservatism.
But it is not all good news. Cameron and his party have lost control of the number one issue in British politics: immigration. This is not just about the numbers, which in 2015 saw net migration surge past the 300,000 mark to become the highest figure on record. Rather, it is about the perceived competence and image of Cameron’s party on an issue that has not only surged to the top of the list of priorities for voters, but will also profoundly shape the upcoming referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
In Britain, and Europe more widely, amid the refugee crisis and the lingering aftermath of the financial crash, there is a gathering storm of unresolved and intense public anxieties over migration and its effects, a feeling of cultural insecurity that often combines with harsh deprivation and inequality. These trends are fuelling a growing dissatisfaction with the perceived inability of established elites to demonstrate the most basic functions of government—to control.
Since Cameron’s victory, public concerns over immigration have risen to new and record heights. Over the past two months, pollsters have recorded how nearly three in five voters now rank migration as a top issue. Reflecting the changing terrain is the fact that concern over migration is now almost twice as high as concern over the economy. The Conservatives went to the country claiming that only they can competently manage the national finances. But now they need to convince people that they can manage migration.