Labour plays its own race card to trump Tory migration plan

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Tony Blair will steal Michael Howard's key policy when he launches Labour's own crackdown on illegal immigration next week, The Independent on Sunday has learnt.

Tony Blair will steal Michael Howard's key policy when he launches Labour's own crackdown on illegal immigration next week, The Independent on Sunday has learnt.

The Prime Minister has insisted that an Australian-style points system to grade would-be migrants seeking a new life in Britain is included in a raft of measures. The deportation of thousands of failed asylum-seekers will also be made a top priority. Labour fears that Mr Howard scored a direct hit with the electorate when he launched the Conservatives' policies on asylum and immigration last week.

Mr Blair's nervousness over the issue will increase today as a poll conducted for this newspaper shows two-fifths of voters could switch allegiance over the issue.

The Prime Minister and Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, spent this weekend finalising a "five-year-plan" for migration and asylum. It will include a points system, which a Conservative government would introduce, but which Labour will "adapt to UK conditions", according to a government source.

Almost three-quarters - 71 per cent - of those sampled in today's poll for the IoS said they disagreed with the statement that "the Government has the issue of illegal immigration under control". Only 23 per cent agreed. Those who disagreed included three out of five Labour voters. A large minority, 41 per cent, agreed that "the issue of immigration could affect the way I vote".

The CommunicateResearch poll is not all bad news for the Government: it shows that its lead over the Tories has increased, with 40 per cent saying they intend to vote Labour, 32 per cent Conservative, 20 per cent Lib Dem.

But the prospect that two-fifths of voters could be swayed by immigration will alarm Tony Blair, who wants the election fought on the issue of the economy.

Yesterday, the Tories unveiledcampaign posters. One had the handwritten comment: "It's not racist to impose limits on immigration". Added to this was the slogan: "Are you thinking what we're thinking?"

Liam Fox, the Conservative chairman, said the posters highlighted the party's accusation that Labour had "lost touch" with ordinary people.

But Alan Milburn, Labour's election co-ordinator, countered: "The one poster the Tories haven't launched is on the economy which shows they are running away from the central issue."

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