Sunday, November 04, 2007

Box Clever

Labour needs a more nuanced response to Cameron on immigration that was evident this morning on the Marr show. Helena Kennedy argued that the Tories were moving back into their “comfort zone” and Peter Hain – while magisterially absolving Cameron of racism – spoke (vis-à-vis the Tory candidate who has praised Enoch Powell) of the “racist underbelly” of the Conservative Party (not that he's wrong about this). My own feeling is that both the tactically superior (and more socially responsible) response is that of Trevor Phillips who praises Cameron’s attempt to “deracialise” the issue, while at the same time criticising Cameron’s precise proposals for capping immigration. One can see why Labour would want to depict the Tories as retreating to the right under grassroots pressure. But Cameron’s and Osborne’s pitch is (currently) smarter than that (for example, this morning Osborne was taunting Helena Kennedy with the “British Jobs for British Workers” slogan, which Brown used at Labour’s last conference, and which Osborne implied was racist, and the most this clever and usually articulate woman could do was to bluster unconvincingly). Labour should follow the Phillips line: agree that immigration is an important issue, welcome Cameron’s attempt to take race out of it, agree that a serious (“adult”) debate is needed and that inflammatory language should be avoided and, again, welcome the approach that Cameron has taken in this respect, but then – on the policy detail – say where the disagreements lie. On the Tory candidate who praised Powell it would have been smarter to say something like “I am confident, in the light of his recent remarks, that Cameron will do the right thing…” rather than “demand” that the guy be deselected. Wait and see what happens. If they don’t deselect him then ask “why not?” and how Cameron squares this with his recent remarks? Cameron is boxing clever (and I should think the Tory candidate who praised Powell is toast). The last thing Labour should do is throw blind punches. Keep cool.


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