David Cameron has a stark choice: to be disliked or disbelievedby Peter Kellner / September 10, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
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When he considers what he should now say and do about immigration, David Cameron has a stark choice: to be disliked or disbelieved. If he says that the current levels reflect Britain’s strong economy, high-quality universities and the demand of employers for hard-working staff, voters will say he is hopelessly out of touch. But if he says he still means to reduce the net inflow to “tens of thousands”, voters will say “no chance”.
All modern Prime Ministers have faced dilemmas like this. The difference is that immigration didn’t used to matter so much. In Tony Blair’s era, voters were concerned with jobs, taxes, crime and healthcare. Today, as YouGov’s latest survey for Prospect shows, voters regard immigration as Britain’s number one problem; it has also jumped to the top in Sweden and Germany. The immensely distressing image of a drowned Syrian child on a beach has had some effect on European attitudes. Even so, immigration is a Europe-wide political headache.
The current crisis over refugees from Syria and elsewhere has added greatly to the immediate political problem; but the underlying challenge predates the crisis and will persist even if and when it disappears from the front pages.
The graphic shows how the fear of immigration has gripped Europe. Only in France does concern appear to have dropped; but this is an illusion. Early last year 45 per cent cited “the level of immigration” as one of the country’s three top concerns; just 6 per cent picked terrorism. Now the figures are: immigration 41 per cent, terrorism 46 per cent. Following the attack on Charlie Hebdo earlier this year, and the incident of the gunman on a TGV train shortly before we conducted our latest survey, the figures are best seen as a sharp overall rise in concerns about the impact of outsiders on life in France.