Mr Howard is labouring under a delusion

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The Independent Online

In the 2001 general election, the Conservatives, led by William Hague, went to the country brandishing a hard line on immigration, which the opinion polls informed them would be a guaranteed vote winner. It did not turn out that way. The Tories were comprehensively rejected at the polls, and Mr Hague duly resigned.

In the 2001 general election, the Conservatives, led by William Hague, went to the country brandishing a hard line on immigration, which the opinion polls informed them would be a guaranteed vote winner. It did not turn out that way. The Tories were comprehensively rejected at the polls, and Mr Hague duly resigned.

Yet far from learning from this debacle, Michael Howard appears intent on repeating the same mistakes that proved so costly to his predecessor. The Conservative leader made it clear yesterday that he intends to make immigration a key issue in this year's expected general election. And his party still evidently labours under the delusion that a hardline anti-immigration policy will reconnect them with the British electorate.

In truth, we have heard much of what Mr Howard argued yesterday before. The annual limit on immigration and the arbitrary cap on asylum-seekers were dreamt up by the Tories months ago. It is the timing of the move, which comes just as the parties are entering election campaign mode, that is so telling.

And what it tells us is that the Tories are still floundering. In the absence of any broad vision to offer the country, they have fallen back on petty xenophobia. Mr Howard claims that "only my party has the courage to tell the truth about immigration". But they did not tell the truth last May when they whipped up ill-judged hysteria about what would happen when Eastern European workers were given the right to work in Britain. And they are not telling the truth now, when they argue that "Britain cannot absorb newcomers at today's pace". The fact is that Britain is in desperate need of new workers in all sorts of areas.

The Government's pathetic response yesterday was to argue that the Tories could not afford the measures they are proposing because of planned tax cuts. But draconian limits on the number of asylum-seekers we take are not wrong just because they are impractical. They are wrong because they are immoral. The disgraceful way that the Tories are, once again, seeking to make political capital out of immigration remains a compelling reason not to vote for them.

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