Immigration minister James Brokenshire is not a man racked by self-doubt. But even he might have preferred not to find himself on the Commons front bench so near David Cameron only days after embroiling the PM, his wife, and who yet knows how many of his colleagues in “nannygate”.
In an ill-starred debut speech last week, Brokenshire tried to seize the Ukip low ground by suggesting that the main beneficiaries of immigration were a “wealthy metropolitan elite” who wanted “cheap tradesmen and services”. Apart from being ungallant about his predecessor Mark Harper, whose resignation over the discovery that his cleaner was working illegally in the UK was the only reason Brokenshire got the job in the first place, this invited unwelcome attention on the Camerons’ Nepalese nanny and the Cleggs’ “lady with a Belgian passport who helps us”.
His immediate boss Theresa May offered a spirited defence on Monday of the born again anti-elitist Brokenshire whose safe Tory seat of Old Bexley and Sidcup hasn’t up to now been seen as a proletarian stronghold.
Labour’s Keith Vaz had pointed out that “there are 4.4 million people who are born outside this country who are contributing to our economy,” and added that Brokenshire had come “dangerously close” to endorsing the “discredited” slogan (which Vaz neglected to say was Gordon Brown’s) of “British jobs for British workers”.
“No,” replied Ms May, undeterred by her own employment of a Brazilian cleaner, her new recruit had been on the button “by pointing out that uncontrolled immigration has the greatest impact on those at the lower end of the income scale”.
This did not stop some unstatesmanlike finger pointing by an amused Ed Miliband and his shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander at a Tory front bench which briefly included Mr Cameron, Ms May, and their clumsy nemesis, as the leaders prepared for the unfortunately timed Prime Ministerial statement on Ukraine which followed Home Office questions.
But it was the South East Cambs farming Tory Sir James Paice who really challenged Home Office hawkishness on immigration, pointing to “countless employers in the food and farming sector who do not use illegal gangmasters [but] pay good pay... and where there is job displacement it is because British workers are not prepared to do that work”.
When Cambridgeshire speaks, Brokenshire should worry.