BNP: Cameron stole our policy

Tense? Relations between coalition partners have been strained over the speech
Tense? Relations between coalition partners have been strained over the speech

By Ian Dunt

The prime minister has been accused of stealing BNP policies, following his controversial speech on immigration.

The speech, which saw David Cameron promise to cut down on "mass immigration" prompted a public spat with business secretary Vince Cable and revealed tensions at the heart of the coalition.

"It's cynical opportunism, isn't it? It's almost like a ceremonial adoption of our policy."


BNP leader Nick Griffin said: "[Cameron] has been forced to play the race card to desperately seek to shore up the Tory vote."

The speech threw coalition policy on immigration into disarray, with one senior Lib Dem branding the speech a return to "dog whistle" politics and government sources struggling to confirm whether reducing immigration to "tens of thousands" was official policy.

"This does look to be a rather disappointing return to the dog whistle politics of Michael Howard," said Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams.

"It will be encouraging to those of us on the progressive side of politics that Liberal Democrats are continuing to rein in the worst excesses of the Tory right."

'Dog-whistle' politics refers to a tactic once favoured by the Liberal party leadership in Australia, in which a right-wing message is communicated to a section of the electorate without explicitly being stated. Former Tory leader Mr Howard was widely criticised for supposedly adopting the tactic in the 2005 general election.

Mr Cameron's Hampshire speech highlighted major difference between Tory and Lib Dem policy, which Nick Clegg and Vince Cable had previously considered a mark of their success.

Senior Liberal Democrats say it was their presence in government which prevented the Conservatives capping student immigration, kept open the post-study work route and prevented a more draconian crack-down on the numbers of people entering Britain.

But Mr Cameron's speech yesterday - timed to coincide with the start of the local election campaign - prompted Mr Clegg to distance himself from the prime minister and an extraordinary outburst from Mr Cable.

A spokesperson for Mr Clegg said: "This is a Conservative prime minister speaking to Conservative party activists using Conservative language."

Mr Cable told the BBC that the "unwise" speech risked "inflaming extremism".

He added: "The reference to the tens of thousands of immigrants rather than hundreds of thousands is not part of the coalition agreement, it is Tory party policy only."

The business secretary's intervention prompted a backlash from people across the political spectrum.

Tory backbencher Philip Davies said: "I find it absolutely extraordinary that a Cabinet minister can stay in his post after being so openly defiant of the prime minister over government policy."

Labour's shadow home affairs spokesman Yvette Cooper said it showed the government was in chaos.

"David Cameron said 'no ifs, no buts' he would deliver on his target to cut net migration to the tens of thousands, yet Vince Cable said that it isn't coalition policy," she said.

"What on earth is going on? The government needs to tell us urgently what their policy actually is."

The 'tens of thousands' figure does not feature in the coalition agreement but it is in background documents to the Queen's Speech and Home Office documents. It has been extensively used on the floor of the House.

The row comes as tensions are strained in Cabinet over the ongoing AV campaign.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander accused the chancellor of "pretty desperate scaremongering" after Mr Osborne raised questions about the 'yes' camp's funding sources.

Earlier, energy secretary Chris Huhne was engaged in a bad-tempered war of words with Tory chairman Baroness Warsi over how electoral reform would affect the BNP.

lition's policy on immigration appeared to be in disarray today, after David Cameron's speech on immigration revealed tensions ahead of the local elections.

One senior Lib Dem branded the speech a return to "dog whistle" politics, while government sources struggled to confirm whether reducing immigration to "tens of thousands" was official policy.

"This does look to be a rather disappointing return to the dog whistle politics of Michael Howard," said Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams.

Comment: The folly and cynicsm of Cameron's immigration speech

"It will be encouraging to those of us on the progressive side of politics that Liberal Democrats are continuing to rein in the worst excesses of the Tory right."

'Dog-whistle' politics refers to a tactic once favoured by the Liberal party leadership in Australia, in which a right-wing message is communicated to a section of the electorate without explicitly being stated. Former Tory leader Mr Howard was widely criticised for supposedly adopting the tactic in the 2005 general election.

Mr Cameron's Hampshire speech, which hit out at "mass immigration" and promised to reduce it significantly, highlighted major difference between Tory and Lib Dem policy, which Nick Clegg and Vince Cable had previously considered a mark of their success.

Senior Liberal Democrats say it was their presence in government which prevented the Conservatives capping student immigration, kept open the post-study work route and prevented a more draconian crack-down on the numbers of people entering Britain.

But Mr Cameron's speech yesterday - timed to coincide with the start of the local election campaign - prompted Mr Clegg to distance himself from the prime minister and an extraordinary outburst from Mr Cable.

A spokesperson for Mr Clegg said: "This is a Conservative prime minister speaking to Conservative party activists using Conservative language."

Mr Cable told the BBC that the "unwise" speech risked "inflaming extremism".

He added: "The reference to the tens of thousands of immigrants rather than hundreds of thousands is not part of the coalition agreement, it is Tory party policy only."

The business secretary's intervention prompted a backlash from people across the political spectrum.

Tory backbencher Philip Davies said: "I find it absolutely extraordinary that a Cabinet minister can stay in his post after being so openly defiant of the prime minister over government policy."

Labour's shadow home affairs spokesman Yvette Cooper said it showed the government was in chaos.

"David Cameron said 'no ifs, no buts' he would deliver on his target to cut net migration to the tens of thousands, yet Vince Cable said that it isn't coalition policy," she said.

"What on earth is going on? The government needs to tell us urgently what their policy actually is."

The 'tens of thousands' figure does not feature in the coalition agreement but it is in background documents to the Queen's Speech and Home Office documents. It has been extensively used on the floor of the House.

The row comes as tensions are strained in Cabinet over the ongoing AV campaign.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander accused the chancellor of "pretty desperate scaremongering" after Mr Osborne raised questions about the 'yes' camp's funding sources.

Earlier, energy secretary Chris Huhne was engaged in a bad-tempered war of words with Tory chairman Baroness Warsi over how electoral reform would affect the BNP.

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