David Cameron praised for immigration views
By Toby Helm, Chief Political Correspondent
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 01/11/2007
David Cameron's approach to immigration has received praise from unexpected quarters after Trevor Phillips, the head of the new equality quango, described it as a “turning point”.
Reacting to a speech on Monday in which the Tory leader called for a “grown-up conversation” on immigration, Mr Phillips said Mr Cameron had set himself apart from an unfortunate Conservative tradition that stretched back to Enoch Powell's “rivers of blood” speech in 1968.
“For the first time in my adult life I heard a party leader clearly attempting to deracialise the issue of immigration and to treat it like any other question of political and economic management,” Mr Phillips said.
“And given that Mr Cameron is speaking against a background in which his party's policy inheritance is defined by Howard, Hague, Thatcher and Powell, this seems to me like a turning point in our national debate about immigration one that will make it possible for us to speak openly and sensibly about the subject, which most of the country sees as the single-most important in politics.”
While Mr Phillips, who heads the Equality and Human Rights Commission, told delegates at a conference in Birmingham that Mr Cameron still had a “little way to go” on the issue, his comments will be welcomed by the Tory high command.
Previously Mr Cameron had been reluctant to speak out on immigration for fear of being branded by Gordon Brown as anti-immigrant a charge levelled by Labour at his predecessors including Michael Howard and Margaret Thatcher.
However, the Tory leader now believes after Mr Brown has entered the fray on immigration that the time is right to address issues of over-crowding and pressure on public services caused by uncontrolled and unmonitored immigration.
In his first major speech on the issue, delivered on Monday, Mr Cameron pledged to cut net immigration into the UK to ward off “unsustainable” pressure on the country's public services and infrastructure.
He said a Tory administration would set annual limits on economic migration from outside the EU “substantially lower” than the current rate, set up a border police force with powers to track down and remove illegal migrants, and impose transitional controls on the right of nationals of new EU states to work in the UK.
While praising his tone, Mr Phillips said Mr Cameron should not believe solutions lay only in capping numbers.
“Rather, we need to meet head-on the challenges of rapid and diverse population growth,” he said.
“We need to find ways to capitalise on the injection of energy that new migrants bring, and bolster our infrastructure and public services to cope with the new demands.”