The Conservatives stepped up their policymaking drive yesterday with a “wide-ranging” examination of immigration strategy that could abandon an election pledge to introduce quotas for asylum seekers.
Francis Maude, Tory party chairman and one of several modernisers appointed to high-profile roles in David Cameron’s shadow cabinet, appeared to acknowledge that a heavy focus on immigration issues had backfired for the party at the general election. He told the BBC’s World at One that it was important to show that the Tories did not have an “antagonism” towards immigration and that the Conservatives were “decent people”.
Mr Cameron, who was elected leader earlier this month, is attempting to recast the party’s image after a third successive election defeat and wants to increase its appeal to women and younger voters.
Mr Maude said that immigration had been “fantastically good” for Britain but that it had to be “controlled”.
Details of the review, published yesterday, included a call for the government’s registration scheme for European Union workers to be scrapped.
The scheme, which was set up last year by David Blunkett when he was home secretary, requires workers from eight of the new EU member states—Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Lith-uania, Latvia and Slovenia—to register.
It was formed so the government would know how many workers from eastern Europe were coming intothe UK. However, the Tories said the effect had been “to promote mass evasion”.
The party cited research suggesting the actual number of workers from new member states supplied to the agricultural and fresh produce sectors in a year was 90,000-150,000, compared with the 41,000 it said the scheme had registered.
The scheme was flawed because self-employed workers and those employed for less than a month did not need to register.
The party claimed workers were moving just before the cut-off point so they did not have to pay the £70 registration fee.
Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said a credible policy had to be based on accurate numbers.
“This scheme is pushing hard-working people into the informal economy, exactly the opposite of what we need,” he said. “Instead of this bureaucracy we need proper border controls so we know who is coming in and going out.”
The party confirmed that the review would include a look at a manifesto pledge, introduced by Michael Howard, the former Tory leader, to impose annual limits on migrants and quotas for asylum seekers.
But it added: “It is too early to say that it will be scrapped.”
Mr Maude defended the party’s decision not toset out detailed policies at this stage, saying it plannedto carry out “a very painstaking, serious programme of policy reform and renewal to work out what arethe right answers” forBritain.
Labour conceded that the immigration monitoring system was not perfect but that it had been introduced to reassure the public.