Howard calls for immigration quotas

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Indy Politics

Michael Howard today put race and immigration at the heart of the Conservatives' election strategy with a pledge to set limits on the number of people coming to Britain.

Michael Howard today put race and immigration at the heart of the Conservatives' election strategy with a pledge to set limits on the number of people coming to Britain.

The Tory leader sought to seize the initiative by unveiling policies to introduce an annual quota and an Australian-style points system. His move appeared to wrong-foot Tony Blair who had spent the day attacking Conservative spending plans in a speech to activists.

Mr Howard moved the pre-election campaign firmly on to the issues of race with a newspaper advertisement proclaiming, "I believe that we must limit immigration. Britain has reached a turning point. Our communities cannot absorb newcomers at today's pace. Immigration must be brought under control. It is essential for good community relations, national security and the management of public services."

Mr Howard states in his advert: "Only my party has the courage to tell the truth about immigration and the courage to act." The Tory leader will give further details of his policies tomorrow.

The move brought immediate accusations that the Tories were playing the "race card". Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten accused the Tory leader of adopting desperate measures in the face on an impending election defeat.

"While there is clearly a case for setting limits on economic migration, there is no justification for having quotas on asylum. You can't turn away a genuine refugee fleeing persecution," he said. "Michael Howard's latest advert shows all the signs of desperation with an election defeat looming."

Labour, however, appeared reluctant to attack Mr Howard's policy proposals. Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister, said that the party accepted that there were "legitimate concerns" over asylum and immigration and that the party would be announcing its own plans soon.

Labour's private polling may have indicated that asylum and immigration could cost it dear among traditional supporters. Mr Howard's pledge is not without risks, however. An attempt by William Hague to raise the issue of immigration before the last general election backfired. His warning that Britain was in danger of becoming a "foreign land" caused an outcry. The issue was then largely ignored.

Meanwhile Mr Blair is reported to have hired a US pollster who urged Bill Clinton to campaign on issues of interest to Republican voters. The Prime Minister is said to have had monthly meetings with Mark Penn, a Washington-based consultant, to help neutralise Conservative appeal.

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