William Hague was at the centre of renewed controversy over asylum-seekers last night when one of his own MPs joined a chorus of criticism over his stance.
As Mr Hague tried to turn attention to the record of the Government and Liberal Democrats on asylum, Andrew Rowe, the MP for Faversham and Kent Mid, suggested his leader had mishandled the issue. There was a danger that the Tory leader's warnings about "floods" of bogus refugees could hit the wrong note.
"The idea that somehow the numbers of people coming into this country are going to put the whole fabric of our society at risk is nonsense," Mr Rowe said in a BBC radio interview.
There was a "danger" that the Tory party might slide into blaming asylum-seekers for the problems with the system for which the Government should take responsibility, he said. "I think everybody who is comfortably off - particularly if they are in a leadership position of a political party - needs to be extremely careful of going down the track of blaming the relatively small number of people who come into this country," he said.
However, he added that Mr Hague was right to criticise the Government's handling of the asylum system.
The Tory leader's warning that a rise in the number ofasylum-seekers could boost support for far-right groups such as the National Front also drew criticism from other political figures. Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, attacked Mr Hague and will use a Romsey by-election rally tonight to renew his assault.
Appearing alongside his predecessor, Paddy Ashdown, Mr Kennedy will accuse Mr Hague of indulging in "irresponsible and immature politics. His is the politics of fear. Mr Hague is the prisoner of his right wing. He has turned the Conservative Party into little more than an extremist sect," he will say.
Mr Hague, also speaking in Romsey today, will say the crisis over asylum-seekers is the Government's fault.
"They have turned Britain into a soft touch, with predictable consequences. The controls have all but collapsed, the backlog of cases has doubled to over 100,000," he will say.
The Liberal Democrats claim there is no crisis, Mr Hague will say. "Charles Kennedy has led them to the extreme fringes of the political debate. They put themselves at the head of a motley coalition of left-wing pressure groups."
Mr Hague was backed yesterday by the Conservative candidate for London mayor, Steven Norris. The Conservative leader's contribution to the debate had been a measured one and had drawn attention to a real problem, he said. "I think he is drawing attention to a problem which is clearly there.
"It has been far too easy for the Government to accuse Mr Hague of behaving in a racist fashion simply because he drew attention to their own transparent inadequacy in dealing with the issue," he said.Reuse content