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UK Politics

David Cameron urged to soften tone on immigration


Conservative modernisers have urged David Cameron to tone down his harsh language on immigration and welfare because they believe it is alienating voters.

The Bright Blue group, a cheerleader for Mr Cameron’s drive to detoxify the Conservative brand, is worried that his modernising project has stalled and has called for a “more balanced” message that does not stigmatise immigrants or benefit claimants.

The appeal to the Prime Minister comes after he rushed through curbs on EU migrants claiming benefits in Britain before Romanians and Bulgarians get the right to work in the UK on 1 January, and George Osborne signalled a further £12bn of welfare cuts after the 2015 election.

The group warned that ministers’ pledges to “clamp down on benefit tourists” would not help the Tories but would make the public think the problem was bigger than it really is. It said squeezing the welfare budget was not changing voters’ attitudes and would  backfire by building sympathy for the unemployed.

Bright Blue’s advisory board includes Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who proposed a cap on EU migrants in a leaked report; David Willetts, the Universities Minister; Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary; and Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister. The group’s warning reflects the views of its members who are not ministers. Ryan Shorthouse, its director, said: “It’s important that policymakers properly manage immigration and our welfare system. But it is misguided for the Conservative Party to make these issues the only part of the narrative, to clear everything else off the decks. Essentially, Downing Street’s messaging is currently narrow and too negative.”

Writing for The Independent’s website, Mr Shorthouse said: “Conservatism should always get behind and reward those working hard to succeed in life, trying to break into the labour market, the housing market and the world of business. This includes the overwhelming majority of immigrants and those on benefits.”

He said the Government should streamline the visa application process and take students out of the immigration cap “to show we’re also fully behind the brightest and the best coming here”.

Modernisers believe the harsher Tory message has been urged on Mr Cameron by Lynton Crosby, the strategist heading the party’s general election campaign.

Mr Shorthouse said a generation of people in their twenties and thirties who were attracted to the Tories after Mr Cameron became leader in 2005 liked the party’s optimism. Now, he warned, there was “a danger that the buzz and momentum around that modernisation is being lost”.