Concern about immigration is as strong as ever, but the issue takes a less substantial role in the general election than 2005, due primarily to the predominance of the financial crisis in the political agenda.

David Cameron adopted a two-pronged approach to the issue. He said Labour had combined tough, unpleasant rhetoric on immigration with a soft, incompetent system. He wanted to moderate the rhetoric while installing a tougher system. That system took the form of an annual cap on immigration from outside the EU. The Tories have not set a number yet and are unlikely to do so ahead of the election. But the limit is likely to be based on the industries and skills most needed by the UK economy on a year-by-year basis. Asylum seekers will not be included in the annual cap.

The business sector despises the idea, which is far too unwieldy to satisfy its constantly evolving needs. Labour and the Lib Dems have branded the idea unrealistic and immature.

Labour, for its part, has heaped much praise on the new, tougher, points-based system. Imported from Australia, the system rates applicants on numerous criteria, including the applicant’s previous income, the number of languages they know, and their skill-set. The government says the system is tough enough to control immigration while still allowing the UK economy enough room to be innovative and dynamic.

The Liberal Democrats want an integrated border police force, and the reintroduction of entry and exit controls to monitor movement in and out the country. The “efficient and fair” running of immigration services will ensure all migrants pay their way through taxes and the number working illegally is significantly cut, the party argues.

Over on the far-right, the BNP calls for the immediate halt of all immigration and the “voluntary resettlement” of those immigrants who are already legally here – even if they were born in the UK.