Labour avoids the key issue

Last updated at 09:11 11 April 2005

Calmly and lucidly Michael Howard yesterday spelt out the Tories' plans for sensible controls on immigration.

There would be an annual quota... specialist border control police... 24-hour security at ports ... and an Australian-style points system for work permits giving priority to those with the skills we need.

Mr Howard is talking a lot of sense. But how typical of New Labour that within minutes, Cabinet Minister Peter Hain was accusing him of using "the most scurrilous Right-wing, ugly tactics".

There has been nothing more malign in this election campaign than the insidious way in which Ministers are trying to brand as racists those who want to debate immigration.

They could not be more wrong.

The Tory leader, like most Britons, believes we should offer sanctuary to those fleeing persecution and welcome skilled workers from overseas. And he acknowledges the huge contribution made by immigrant communities.

But there is also deep concern in Britain that many asylum seekers are economic migrants in disguise, playing the system to stay as long as possible, and that others enter the country and work here illegally.

Of course these are matters for legitimate public discussion in an election.

The real reason that New Labour doesn't want one is because it knows this would expose the way it has surrendered even the pretence of controlling our borders.

Officially average net inflow has trebled under New Labour to 157,000 a year, though the real increase is certainly much higher.

The truth is this Government has no idea how many illegal immigrants there are and lets asylum seekers vanish while applications are being processed. It turns a blind eye to those who are smuggled in as it can then claim the number of asylum seekers has fallen.

And crucially it has given away Britain's veto on immigration and border controls to Brussels.

New Labour says it wants to fight on its record - but it won't debate the issue that concerns people most of all.

Rover laid bare

Gordon Brown says an official investigation is needed into how MG Rover's management brought Britain's last remaining car manufacturer to the verge of collapse.

The Chancellor is right to ask questions about the "Phoenix Four" executives. There is something whiffy about the way they have made themselves extremely rich, while apparently leaving their company on the scrapheap and their workers facing the dole.

For their initial outlay of £64,000, John Towers and his colleagues have in five years taken out more than £40million from the company, while presiding over £400 million losses.

But this is only part of the story. Will the Government be as keen to have its own role in this miserable saga examined?

For it was the then Trade Secretary Stephen "liar" Byers who guided Rover into the hands of Phoenix rather than a venture capital firm with more realistic plans.

A sound business choice or, as all the evidence suggests, the option involving the least short-term job losses, thereby helping shore up New Labour's vote in local and national elections?

Was the Government's £500million interest-free loan properly monitored or was it written off from day one?

But, as we well know, it doesn't really need an investigation to reveal the truth. This is a story of greedy businessmen, cynical politicians more interested in marginal seats than British industry - and 25,000 workers who have been totally betrayed.