Point scoring on immigration

MICHAEL Howard's decision to launch the Conservative Party's policy on immigration and asylum just days before the Auschwitz commemoration seemed curious timing.

MICHAEL Howard's decision to launch the Conservative Party's policy on immigration and asylum just days before the Auschwitz commemoration seemed curious timing.

With the world preparing to remember the evils of the Nazis during the war and the flood of refugees across Europe, here was the British-born son of an asylum seeker playing what was portrayed by the liberal establishment and migrant and refugee organisations as racist.

It's likely the Tories had got wind of a Labour initiative to be announced during the election campaign and decided to make the running. It seems to have paid off.

Opinion polls indicate it's the one issue on which the Tories are streets ahead of Labour and it has forced ministers to hastily cobble together some sort of answer to stifle any hint of a Conservative revival on the backs of bogus economic asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.

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Home Secretary Charles Clarke, yesterday published a five-year plan for immigration and asylum to curb migrants' rights to settle permanently in Britain. It includes an Australian-style points system favouring those with sought-after skills, such as teachers and doctors, which two weeks ago Labour condemned when the Conservatives included it in their approach.

The Government supports controlled immigration and the protection of genuine refugees but Mr Clarke plans a system which looks at the skills, talents, and abilities of people seeking to come and work in the UK, and ensures that when they arrive they have a job and can contribute to the economy of the country.

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Tighter border controls, finger printing of immigrants, compulsory identity cards and a standard English test for would-be arrivals are all part of a package that might never have seen the light of the day if the Conservatives hadn't taken the initiative.

Yesterday, shadow home secretary David Davis said Mr Clarke's plans were "a rather panicky response" from the Government which had allowed uncontrolled and illegal immigration into the UK for the past eight years.

The Tories have managed to raise a sensitive subject with the Government not daring to accuse them of playing the race card, presumably because ministers know they are on a hiding to nothing with the voters.

However Mr Howard may well be on quicksand with his hardline new sentencing policies which would involve building 20,000 more prison places by 2010 to deal with the 19% increase in numbers of inmates they expect under his policies for England and Wales.

Mr Howard, who took part in a drugs raid on Teesside before giving details of the Tory plans, promised to scrap Labour's early release scheme, criminals would serve the sentence laid down by the courts in full, mandatory minimum sentences of three years would be imposed on third-time burglars convicted and dealers in hard drugs would receive at least seven years on their third conviction.

Juliet Lyon, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said somewhat sniffily: "How could anyone still believe that prison works when three out of five people walk out of jail and return to crime at a cost to the taxpayer of £11 billion a year? How could anyone propose building yet more prisons when, of the 13 new prisons opened in the last decade, nine are overcrowded already?"

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