Yesterday brought the moment for Young Dave to tell those ghastly foreigners exactly where they jolly well got off: at the last stop before the UK border, and don’t even think about free movement. Except it didn’t happen: Cameron did not announce any kind of EU migrant quota. So he was going to get jolly tough with all the other EU member states, only not quite as tough as he said previously.
The realisation that Dave would not be telling Johnny Foreigner to Frog Off or Stick It Up Your Juncker was the main reason that the right-wing press, with the exception of the Express, left news of his speech off the front pages. When Macer Hall proclaimed “Migrant Controls Or We’ll Quit EU”, one had to wonder if he had actually read the text of Cameron’s speech.
What, then, was being proposed? There would be a curtailing of in-work benefits, such as tax credits and housing benefit, unless the applicant had been here four years. And a refusal to let in anyone without a job offer, but then, anyone from another EU member state can come here to visit – without precondition – so that one of Dave’s “red lines” is dead on arrival.
Where was the quota, the restriction on issuing National Insurance numbers? There wasn’t one. And, the more extensive the trawl both in countries like Poland, and among migrant communities in the UK, the more obvious the conclusion: they aren’t coming here for the benefits, and many don’t claim them – heck, many of them don’t know they can claim them.
There would be a restriction on migrants’ access to social housing, but one look at a town like Crewe shows why this too would be pointless: there is a large private rental sector and no need for most migrants to apply for social housing provision. The reality of Cameron’s position was left to the Guardian, with “Merkel forces Cameron retreat”, and Independent, with “Cameron forced to retreat on migration”.
All that was left was spin, with the Sun’s non-bullying political editor Tom Newton Dunn telling “Migrant climbdown proves Cam thinks he’ll win in 2015” (no it doesn’t – see Guardian and Independent). He was backed up by the serially clueless Tim Montgomerie, who thought Phonehackgate was Labour payback for Damian McBride, calling the highly suspect analysis “spot on”.
There was also spin from the appalling Quentin Letts (let’s not), who told “The speech itself was elegantly argued, jauntily written, far better than some recent efforts which have slipped into Blair-Brownish verbless, one-line-paragraph robot-ese”. So he didn’t want to talk about that climbdown to the Germans, either.
The reality is that Dave knew he couldn’t get what he originally shot his gob off about. So he backed down and hoped nobody would notice. Got that wrong.