22 December 2014

Labour and the Conservatives could both break up because they have failed to recognise the scale of public feeling over immigration, a senior Labour MP has said.

Frank Field, a former welfare minister, suggested that increasing numbers of MPs will reject their own parties’ policies on immigration and run for election making their own independent pledges of much tougher action.

Mr Field, an MP since 1979 and one of the most widely-respected members of the Commons, said neither Ed Miliband, his own leader, nor David Cameron, has done enough to answer public anger about mass immigration.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, he also praised the UK Independence Party for “breaking the power of political correctness” over the issue of immigration.

Rejecting Labour’s liberal approach to immigration under the last government, Mr Field has been a longstanding campaigner for much more restrictive entry rules.

Mr Field also has close ties with some Conservatives, running an immigration campaign with Sir Nicholas Soames, a senior Conservative MP. He was also a friend of Baroness Thatcher.

Criticising the leaderships of both parties for ignoring voters’ concerns over immigration, Mr Field suggested that both the main parties could now effectively be destroyed by splits over how to respond.

He likened the situation to the one that faced the Tories in the mid 19th Century when Sir Robert Peel scrapped the Corn Laws protecting British farmers from imported grain. The subsequent backlash split the Tories into two factions, one of which later merged with the Whigs to form the Liberals.

“Immigration has the power that the Corn Laws did, to break up parties,” Mr Field said.

Next year’s general election will see “the beginning of the break up” as many MPs effectively offer voters their own personal manifesto on immigration, promising much tougher action than their official party manifestos.

“Many MPs will be making personal commitments on this. I shall be one of them. Others will too. They will want to survive.”

Mr Field suggested that the main parties’ real moment of reckoning will come in the 2020 general election, when voters will be able to judge them on how much they did to recast Britain’s EU membership and restrict the right to free movement.

“The temporary restriction of immigration must be the cornerstone of our renegotiation,” Mr Field said. “This election will be the beginning of the break up, but it is the election after next where the electorate will have a clear view of which parties supported it and which did not.”

Mr Field said that the failure of the main parties to discuss immigration had fuelled the rise of Ukip.

“The denial of the issue has helped Ukip grow. It was thought that any talk about this was racist. Both parties have been responsible.”

He added: “Finally the power of political correctness over politics, thank goodness, is breaking. It is Ukip that is breaking it.”

While praising Ukip for breaking the taboo on immigration, Mr Field strongly criticised the Ukip leader for comments in which he defended the use of terms like “Chinky” to describe Chinese people. .

“This is where you have a duty of leadership. People may well have these views, but they should not be the views of political parties. Political parties have a duty to maintain the line of decency,” he said,

“It is respectable to talk about immigration but if you are party that aspires to hold the balance of power, as Ukip does, you have to maintain a standard of decency.”

Mr Field repeated his criticisms of Ed Miliband’s office for a briefing note – obtained by the Telegraph – which advised Labour MPs to “move the conversation on” from immigration instead of debating the issue.

“When I saw it, I thought it was a spoof,” he said. “That is precisely what Ukip want us to do.”

He also warned that Ukip would do more political damage to Labour in future. “Ukip’s harm to the tory vote has already been done. Their harm to us is still to come.”