[Conservative leader] David Cameron could clinch a general election victory by placing a cap of 50,000 on net immigration, a new opinion poll shows. A YouGov poll in 43 Labour marginals shows that nearly half the respondents were more likely to vote Tory if Cameron backed a 50,000 cap. The poll is significant because it suggests for the first time that immigration curbs could have a decisive impact on the general election result. The Conservatives need to win the marginals to help to secure an effective working majority at the election.

With 85% of voters worried about the population reaching 70m by the end of the next decade, the poll indicates that Cameron’s pledge to cut net migration to ensure the population remains below that figure could reap benefits.

The Tories will seize on the poll as evidence that placing immigration centre stage in their coming campaign will not backfire , as it did when Michael Howard led the Tories to defeat in 2005.

Then, any talk of a cap on migrants was considered political suicide by most MPs. But the recession and the pressure that record migration has put on jobs and public services has transformed the debate. Last year Alan Johnson, the home secretary, broke the mould when he became the first Labour minister publicly to acknowledge voter alarm. He admitted the government had been “maladroit” in dealing with the issue. But Labour has so far been reluctant to spell out how it would keep the population under 70m, a figure that the Office for National Statistics predicts will be reached by 2029.

Cameron last week went further than before in marking out the immigration battleground. Speaking after Lord Carey of Clifton, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, had called for a cap on net migration of 40,000 a year, partly to protect Britain’s Christian ethos, the Tory leader said he did not “support our population going to 70m” and that his concern was to relieve pressure on public services. “In the past decade net immigration in some years has been sort of 200,000, so implying a 2m increase over a decade, which I think is too much,” Cameron said. “We should see net immigration in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands.”

The poll, commissioned by Migrationwatch, a right-wing think tank, found that only the economy is more important than immigration to voters in Labour seats. When asked which issue was most likely to influence them, 36% of voters in Labour seats named the economy while 13% said it was immigration. Taxation, at 8%, and health, at 6%, were next.

YouGov found that 85% of people in the Labour marginals were worried about the population reaching 70m, with 49% saying they were “very worried”. The poll found that 44% in Labour marginals would be more likely to vote Conservative if Cameron were to say outright that a Tory government would reduce immigration to 50,000 or below.

Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migrationwatch, said the poll showed how the issue could change the balance of power. “The polling numbers tell us yet again that immigration is a matter of deep concern to a large majority of the population and that they are likely to respond very positively to parties that seriously address them,” he said.

SOURCE

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