Will the immigration plan stop Lib Dem defections?

Will the immigration plan stop Lib Dem defections?


    Can Labour fight on two fronts

With the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, seeking today to neutralise the Tory moves on immigration with tough plans of his own the big question in electoral terms is how well this will go down with Labour’s Lib Dem leaning supporters who could decide the next election.

The problem Labour strategists have is that they cannot risk Labour-Tory vote shifts which the polls seem to indicate could happen on immigration policy. Last month ICM recorded a 51% deficit in the satisfaction index on this subject.

This has to be set against the Tory ratings being stuck at 2001 levels with the major voting dynamic being between the Lib Dems and Labour. When Charles Kennedy’s party goes up – Labour goes down and vice-versa.

    During the past year the combined Labour and Lib Dem poll share on the ICM-YouGov average has remained almost totally within the narrow 57-61% range – except during the early summer when high UKIP support was affecting all the figures.

The scale of of potential “seepage” from Labour to the Lib Dems was shown in last week’s Communicate Research poll where between one in four and one in three Labour supporters said they would switch to the Lib Dems if they thought that Charles Kennedy’s party had a chance. It’s that segment of voters that are critical. If Tony Blair can keep them on board then he’ll be returned with another three-figure majority. Without them the hung parliament possibility looms large.

So every campaign move and policy announcement has to be judged in terms of how it will impact on this group. Is Labour’s strategy of “triangulation” – removing policy differences with the Tories by adopting similar measures – the right one for the current circumstances?

    As a wise man once said – “if you can’t ride two horses at the same time you shouldn’t be in the circus.”

We should get a further indication of how immigration is going down in the February Populus Poll – which is due out tomorrow. The betting markets have been quiet.

Copyright 2005 Mike Smithson

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