The Prime Minister has set himself up for another failure

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Only two explanations are possible for the Prime Minister's surprise "objective" of halving asylum applications by September. One is that he panicked in the
Newsnight studio and converted an optimistic scenario from one of his "let's get to grips with this problem" sessions with the Home Secretary into a public target. The other is that he has a cunning plan.

Only two explanations are possible for the Prime Minister's surprise "objective" of halving asylum applications by September. One is that he panicked in the Newsnight studio and converted an optimistic scenario from one of his "let's get to grips with this problem" sessions with the Home Secretary into a public target. The other is that he has a cunning plan.

Either way, he is likely to come unstuck. Even if he has a plan, it is unlikely to be any more successful than one of Baldrick's. The factors that generate asylum applications are simply not under a politician's control. The pushes of war, civil war and repression and the pulls of economics are unpredictable. Paradoxically, a war that removes Saddam Hussein might easily increase the numbers fleeing a well-founded fear of persecution in southern Iraq, as his tyranny presently suppresses many of that area's religious and ethnic divisions. Nor are economic migrants likely to be much deterred by the withdrawal of benefits, the fingerprinting and the greater likelihood of deportation.

Unlike the pledge on street crime, therefore, also delivered seemingly off the cuff but fulfilled after a fashion, it is hard to see how this target can be met. No wonder David Blunkett publicly downgraded it from a target to a "direction" and is reported to have said it was "undeliverable". Once the pedlars of prejudice have gone purple over the rise in the number of asylum-applications expected later this month, the Government's failure to meet the target will be held up as further evidence that Mr Blair has "lost control" of the asylum system.

He has only himself to blame for allowing this perception to grow and take such a firm hold. He, Jack Straw, his first Home Secretary, and David Blunkett have been defensive and reactive, always taken by surprise by the administrative complexities of the issue and too rarely countering the alarmism of much of its reporting. Thus they have been unable to combine the generosity towards genuine refugees with the firmness towards illegal immigration that is the only effective antidote to xenophobia. The Prime Minister's "undeliverable" promise only sets himself up for further failure.

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