Redwood breaks colour bar race issue

Election Countdown
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The Independent Online
A senior right-wing Tory MP yesterday defied the Prime Minister's appeal to keep race out of the general election campaign by raising the immigration issue in the Wolverhampton seat where Enoch Powell made his "rivers of blood" speech.

Nicholas Budgen, the Powellite Tory MP for Wolverhampton South West, told a press conference in his constituency office that immigration was an election issue in his seat, whether the Tory high command liked it or not.

John Redwood, who travelled from his seat in Woking, Surrey, to give his backing to Mr Budgen, a fellow Euro-sceptic, also toured the constituency, in a clear attempt to display leadership qualities. Mr Redwood insisted it was right for Mr Budgen to challenge Labour over its immigration policy.

An hour earlier, as he toured a multi-racial school 20 miles away in Birmingham, John Major stood by firm immigration controls but said he did not want immigration to be raised as a partisan issue in the election.

"What I am not prepared to see is this issue raised as a partisan political issue because we have seen the most immense improvements in race relations in this country. I intend these improvements should continue."

Mr Budgen said he had always watched immigration, as a local issue, as Mr Major, as the MP for Huntingdon, had to watch the price of wheat. "I thought these silly [Labour] proposals for liberalising immigration controls had been forgotten. It was not until I read it in The Independent I thought this is something that needs to be investigated."

Mr Budgen told a joint press conference with Mr Redwood in his constituency offices: "The position in Wolverhampton and the West Midlands is that whole areas have been transformed by immigration. The whole population, white, black and Asian, fully understands the necessity of strict immigration controls as the principle means of the continuance of good race relations.

"If there is to be an attempt to curry favour with Asian organisations by relaxing immigration controls, it becomes an issue. However much the leaders of the Tory party may say they would rather it was not discussed, the issue is ...whether the people particularly in affected areas like Wolverhampton want it discussed. What is an election issue is not decided by the politicians."

He said Mr Powell had painted the future in "terms which turned out to be excessively dramatic ... We haven't had the rivers of blood because we have had strict immigration control".

Prompted by Mr Redwood, Mr Budgen added: "I am not predicting a future rivers of blood. I am saying that race relations have much improved and we want to ensure they continue to do so."

Mr Redwood said it was perfectly reasonable for Conservative candidates, where it was a matter of interest, to cross examine Labour about its plans for not implementing the "primary purpose rule" allowing immigrants to bring in their families.

Mr Redwood accused Labour of making it an issue by proposing the changes to the immigration controls.

He added: "I would rather it wasn't - I think it would be much better if it was not a partisan issue.

That is why I am very pleased my party did not raise it, did not take to the electorate proposals for making changes in the immigration policies of this country ... Labour have made it an issue."