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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 17:42 GMT
The politics of asylum
Asylum seekers
Some cross-party agreement on asylum issues
By the BBC's Robin Chrystal

It was no mistake that the Home Secretary David Blunkett told today's Sun and Daily Mail readers first about the details of his immigration and asylum changes.

The screaming headlines "Migrants Must Learn To Be British" and "Immigrants Must Pass English Test" will have been read with satisfaction in the higher reaches of New Labour.

Policies towards immigration show how politics has changed since Norman Tebbit's infamous cricket test

Robin Chrystal
But after that clear attempt to appeal to Middle England over its breakfast tables, Mr Blunkett moved on to try and placate critics in his party later in the Commons.

The system of payment vouchers for asylum seekers - hated as demeaning by those on Labour's Left - are to be removed.

This dual approach typifies the political tightrope the Home Secretary is walking to try to bring about what amounts to a substantial social shift: to allow into the UK more economic migrants.

The cricket test

His proposals are a classic New Labour mix of rights and responsibilities.

A points system on the one hand to give more people the right to come to Britain to work, but the responsibility on the other to take compulsory English language tests and an exam on the ways of British life.

In many ways policies towards immigration show how politics has changed since Norman Tebbit's infamous cricket test - when he judged that the way to tell whether someone was British was to ask which national cricket team they supported.

From then on the Conservatives adopted an ever tougher approach to immigration and asylum, culminating in William Hague's call at the last election for a series of camps across England into which all would-be immigrants would be placed to be assessed.

Labour meanwhile was making its own journey, first by championing the rights especially of immigrants from Commonwealth countries, to come to Britain.

Letwyn's support

But Tony Blair's election as Labour leader saw the party move to the right on the issue.

Mr Blunkett's announcement has seen the two main parties agreeing on most of the key points, with the Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin calling the changes "humane, effective and fair".

Ironically he found himself being berated by the arch Labour left winger, Dennis Skinner, replying that there was nothing wrong with parties agreeing on policies when those policies were the right ones.

It is a state of affairs the government will be quite content with.

See also:

29 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Asylum seekers to get ID cards
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