UKIP is basically the Conservative Party’s problem. It is threatening the Tories’ right flank, giving Tory backbenchers the jitters and prompting the Tory leadership to react with rightward moves on various issues (as today’s Queen’s Speech demonstrates, with its emphasis on immigration and the dropping of policies on plain cigarette packaging and overseas aid).
UKIP is not the Liberal Democrats’ problem. There is no rational reason why the Liberal Democrats should move rightwards on immigration or Europe. If anything, the effect of UKIP on the Tories opens up a greater space for liberal opinion. The opportunity is there for the taking, to appeal to voters who don’t buy into the UKIP/Daily Express ‘drawbridge up’ agenda.
Nick Clegg obviously doesn’t see things that way. The Daily Express reports:
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, the Liberal Democrat leader said: “We need to be an open country in terms of welcoming people who want to make a contribution to the United Kingdom, but of course we should stamp out abuse.
“We need to stamp out levels of illegal immigration and of course we need to make sure that our public services and our benefits are not simply a free-for-all when of course there needs to be some relation to what you put in and what you get out.”The idea that hordes of immigrants are coming to Britain to sponge off the welfare system is a complete myth. There is no “free-for-all”. It’s a non-problem. Despite this, Clegg seems to think that action to combat this imaginary threat is vital (and it’s a topic on which he has recent form).
“My advice to the Conservative party, if they’d listen to it, is don’t run after Ukip as it would just strengthen Ukip’s hand.”In which case, why is Clegg ignoring his own advice and indulging in this unpleasant dog-whistle politics?