A majority of the public (56 per cent) and nearly two-fifths of Tory supporters (38%) believe home secretary Theresa May should resign over the borders fiasco, the latest Sunday Times/YouGov poll (pdf) has revealed.
Only 49% of Tory supporters and just 26% of all voters believe she should stay.
Yet in policy terms, 78% of those polled back the government’s policy to reduce net immigration from hundreds of thousands a year down to the “tens of thousands”, with 64% of Labour and 62% of Liberal Democrat voters backing it. Just 10% of voters believe the policy is wrong.
“The home secretary’s current hard line seems to have backfired with public opinion:
1. Few people regard immigration as central to their own lives. To be sure, they see it as a major NATIONAL problem: our latest tracker survey on national issues finds that 48% regard it as one of the top three (out of a list of 12). Only the economy concerns voters more.
But when the same people are given the same list and asked to pick from the top three concerns ‘TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY’, the proportion falls to 14%.
2. While an overwhelming majority supports the goal of cutting immigration to ‘tens of thousands’ a year, a mere 16% think it likely that this goal will be achieved.
Even Tory voters say, by two-to-one, that it’s unlikely that immigration will be reduced to this level.
3. Most people think that Theresa May has NOT been ‘honest and open’ in what she has said about the relaxation of border controls.
She cannot even count on Tory voters to believe her truthfulness: they are evenly divided.
Expanding on that first, key point, the fact immigration isn’t one the three main concerns for voters and their families for 86% of people, Kellner concludes:
“Most people see the issue less as one that impinges on their daily life than as a test of political honesty and competence. They would like the numbers to be reduced sharply, but they are just as sceptical about this government as they were about the last one as to whether this will actually happen.
“The result is disillusion. Cameron and May are discovering what politicians down the ages have known – or, at least, should have known: voters despise tough talk that they think is for show rather than for real.”
The poll verdict appears clear: The policy may stay – but May mustn’t.
• Ineffective ban on Islamist group shows May’s desperation – George Readings, November 11th 2011
• FT slam dog-whistle May’s “preference for popular pandering over rational policy” – Shamik Das, November 8th 2011
• The government must stop spreading untruths about immigration – Donna Covey, October 18th 2011
• Kitten heels May gets in a cat flap – Alex Hern, October 4th 2011
• Home secretary forced to “water down” immigration speech – Liam R Thompson, November 12th 2010