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A Single Issue or A Local Issue?

The immigration issue raised its head once again on Thursday, with a visit by Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, to the marginal Labour constituency of Thanet South, being contested by Tory candidate, Mark MacGregor, the party’s chief executive under Ian Duncan Smith, rather surprisingly labelled as a "destructive force", this week, by the former party chairman, “The Chingford Strangler”, Norman Tebbit.

Roger Gale MP, David Davis MP and Mark MacGregor - Almost an MP?

In Thanet, North or South, it’s hard for the Conservatives to escape the subject of immigration as a local issue and Davis was at the port of Ramsgate to investigate the porous nature of border controls that his party promises to address if they are returned to power next week.

Davis was asked if he had a message for the people of constituencies like Thanet, who have seen the real impact of the government’s immigration policy over the last decade. At local level, this has touched-upon, schools, law-enforcement, infrastructure and above all the local community charge, Central government has an outstanding debt of £14.8 million of asylum funding to Kent County Council and the combined cost of Medway and Kent Councils supporting the asylum system since 1997 has been over £259 million, contributing to a rise in the typical Band D Council Tax Bill of £550 since that time.

“The general message”, says Davis, “We will get this issue under control, both asylum and immigration. We will allow people in with the skills we need as a society but we will control it so that it does not put unnecessary pressure on our public services. That’s what the Conservative party promises and frankly, before we started talking about it, the Government hadn’t even thought about it.”

Davis may have been surprised to discover that the Port of Ramsgate has actually tightened its border controls so that they now run on a twenty-four-hour basis but the Ramsgate Marina, like thousand of others around the country only presents a cursory form of immigration control. While much stronger controls at ports from either party, will undoubtedly reduce the flow of concealed refugees to a trickle, the determined, will still find Britain’s southern coastline accessible if they can afford the price demanded by the people smugglers.

In areas like Thanet however, it’s not the trickle of immigrants from the port that concerns local people, it’s the flow of asylum seekers being sent for housing and re-processing by central government and overloaded London councils that is placing local resources under strain. Already a relatively poor and disadvantaged area in contrast with other parts of the South-east, Thanet is seeing quite the opposite view of the picture painted by Prime Minister Tony Blair in Dover last week. With high unemployment and a shortage of local housing, doctors, dentists and school places already, many people in Thanet would like to turn it back into an island once again or put up a sign saying “No new customers only”. If they vote Conservative next week, it will send a strong message that immigration for many remains an election issue of real importance in two overloaded constituencies in North Kent.

A slideshow of photos can be found here.


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