Both main parties are experiencing an electoral torture over the vexed topics of free movement of people and immigration.
Labour has traditionally captured a large share of the recent migrant vote. It is reluctant to say or do anything that could upset that important constituency. It also under Mr Blair made a successful pitch for many more votes from the better off and higher earning sections of society. Many in this group welcome more migration, as they wish to employ the new migrants and want to see the market for their goods and services expand.
Labour’s traditional voters often take a different view. They do not wish to see migrants in the queue for social housing, nor like cheaper competition in the labour market for unskilled jobs that already pay very little. The Unions are none too keen on a plentiful increase in the supply of labour when they are trying to get a better return for their members. Labour are now seeing some of their traditional vote disappear to parties of the anti immigrant right and are not sure what to do about it. Some in Labour, never enamoured of the EU, want a new policy to get more control over the UK’s borders and welfare back. Others think the Blairite approach of appealing to the better off and migrants will still be a winning combination so they can ignore the traditional Labour voters.
The Conservatives have been far less successful at attracting recent migrant votes, but wish to improve their performance with these groups. They also wish to improve their appeal to the young, to the metropolitan and to the more socially liberal, who all tend to accept or welcome more migration.
This produces the same problem as Labour’s. Traditional Conservative voters, especially pensioners, dislike the pace of change in their country and wish to see strict controls on migration. They worry about supply and access to benefits and public services and the impact on housing. It fuels the ability of UKIP to attract Conservative voters away, sometimes in sufficient numbers to deliver the Council seat or Parliamentary seat to Labour or the Lib Dems as recently at Eastleigh. In office past Conservative governments did impose much stricter controls on migration than the last Labour government. To do so again requires that renegotiation of our relationship with the EU, as free movement is an important part of the issue.