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Immigration is the key election issue. Will the parties resist playing the “race card”?

The leaders debate was anodyne and passed without any real incident or killer blow being landed. Nick Clegg emerged as the clear winner and the Lib Dems will be pleased this morning as he has begun to make a real impression.

Whilst it was not great television it was nevertheless compelling. The set looked slightly garish resembling a contestant quiz show and there was very little spontaneity in the contributions.

One issue that did emerge as a deal breaker in this election is immigration. All the feedback from the polls and the watching public revealed widespread hostility on immigration is palpable.  Therefore, the temptation will be for parties to start talking very tough on these issues as a result and play the ‘race card’ in an attempt to secure more votes.

It’s ironic that in 2005 Michael Howard made immigration the central plank of the Tory election campaign and the country rejected that approach and the Tories lost. In this election the Tories have not heavily pushed immigration and yet the public mood fed by a diet of ant immigration stories in some newspapers favour the virtual stoppage of all immigration to the UK.

Business leaders have already expressed their concerns at the Tory proposal to set a limit on immigration. They clearly understand that the economy will always need immigrant labour.

Such has been the relentless campaign against immigrants that even some members of the black and ethnic minority communities have begun to echo calls for current levels to be drastically cut. This is a dangerous course to take. The government being unable to halt EU migration to the UK intend to assuage public concern by stopping non-EU migration. That’s Africans, Asians and Caribbeans – not Poles or Latvians – that will suffer as a result. Those supporting calls for tougher immigration are convinced that the problem is Eastern Europeans. The racism that informs this view will ultimately be used against black communities and ultimately we will deeply regret aligning ourselves with racists on this issue.

With the current election so tight the temptation to play the ‘race card’ will be huge and as we saw during the London Mayoral elections of 2008 the Tories have no reluctance in doing so. If this election goes pear shaped on the issue of race we will all suffer as a result.

The next few weeks will see if such a grave temptation will be resisted.

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