Voters’ verdict: Immigration not as important as the economy, Europe, or taxes
Let’s begin in France where the electorate for the second time in France’s history elected a Socialist president, Francois Hollande, by ousting Nicolas Sarkozy after only one term in office. Hollande’s key policies were huge tax-rises on the rich and wealthy (75 percent marginal rate on those earning €1,000,000), housing, and reduction in corporation tax to boost business output and tackle unemployment.
His central policies were aimed at confronting the economic woes of the country and implementing a socialist vinculum to the public with a pinch of EU bashing. Most media commentators disagreed with his tax pledges but the electorate swung in his favour in both rounds of the elections.
On immigration, Hollande’s easiest decision was to back a UK-style immigration cap, which airlifted him out of a possible tense battle with National Front reprobate, Marine Le Pen, who Nicolas Sarkozy sought to align himself with in an attempt to win some of the 18 percent she polled in the first round. This didn’t work for Sarkozy and neither did his 5 years as president pummelling multiculturalism and lurching to the right on immigration (read here).
Hollande quietly offered votes to foreign residents who sought democratic engagement in local elections as a second tier policy but came under fire on his soft touch on immigration. This was potentially a lethal manoeuvre by the right and had to be addressed with a response that meant he had to commit to a cap on immigration. Nevertheless, his narrow election win indicates that while migration was a hot potato it wasn’t a toxic enough of an issue for him to lose.
The local election results were interpreted by most as an indictment of the Coalition’s recent budget proposals and tax cuts for high earners. Former Conservative Party Chairman, Lord Ashcroft, writes:
With turnout at a dismal 32%, no party has fired the imagination in these elections. But what is clear is that we are not managing to keep on board many of those who voted Conservative two years ago, let alone enlist further support.
The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has seen an increase in its support from Conservative supporters switching allegiances. It was reported that at least 13 percent of the electorate voted for the anti-EU party. Some argue that this is the result of the ongoing turmoil in the EU. Others comment that Tory radicalism has been lost in the centre ground and a lurch to the right is needed.
However, while most attacks centre on the core anatomy of the Coalition’s programme of policies, namely Lords Reform and Gay Marriage, it could be argued that the questions over the UK's future membership of the EU and a stronger emphasis on tackling immigration (both policies a strong platform for UKIP) is what enticed disaffected Tory supporters to switch allegiances. Sniffing out the possibility of massive chunks of Tory support being hijacked by UKIP, potentially denying the Conservative Party a majority in 2015, Ashcroft insists that:
The real lesson is that the government should focus on the things that matter. Of course, if we could all agree on what they were, politics would be very much more straightforward. Some, in a manner which is now not so much predictable as Pavlovian, say the answer is to promise a referendum on Europe. But these people would probably give the same answer if you asked them how to stop a soufflé from sinking. I think Britain’s relationship with the EU was unlikely to have been on most voters’ minds as they elected their new councillors.
This is at odds with articles in Conservativehome, the Tory website who in recent months have grown increasingly hostile to David Cameron’s leadership, pushing for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU to neutralise UKIP’s appeal. The Tories, however, did manage to avoid a casualty in the shape of Boris Johnson, who secured another term as the Mayor of London, as did the 8 Conservative London Assembly Members.
There is advancement in Europe and a gradual increase in electorates moving towards the centre-Left as austerity measures and increasing unemployment begins to frustrate stagnating economies with centre-Right parties at the helm. Immigration has not yet taken centre stage in the UK but France’s recent wave of support for Marine Le Pen could give petrol to anti-immigration groups and hostile news outlets to pressure the government into setting a light under the issue. A lesson from France for all the mainstream parties is that immigrant bashing only gets you so far but not over the finishing line.