Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Beverley Hughes lied"

So the media finally got their scalp. I don't believe for a minute that Beverley Hughes, the former Home Office immigration minister, was guilty of anything except not having a photographic memory. As anyone who has worked in a ministerial office knows, Hughes's response a year ago to a memo from Bob Ainsworth, then a colleague in her own department, warning of "visa scams" would almost certainly not have been drafted by Hughes. That's what you have a private office for, staffed by smart Oxbridge types.

As expected, the Prime Minister didn't lift a finger to help his beleaguered minister. But if the government's support for Hughes has been pathetic, then its advocacy of a sensible immigration policy has been dire. All the talk from No 10 is of summits and "toughening up" the policy. Next, Tony Blair will appoint an "immigration tsar". Perhaps he will give the job to an ageing peer. How about Baroness Thatcher?

The Tories know when they are on to a winner these days. I interviewed David Davis on the subject on the radio and he was impressive. He agreed with Gordon Brown's statement in his Budget speech about the need for immigration in an expanding economy, but was very careful what language he used. Of course, he is playing to people's fears, but it is difficult to accuse him of playing the race card. He is leaving that to his friends in the tabloid press. The most significant thing, however, was the government's refusal to put up a spokesman to argue for its policy.

Is it any wonder that opinion polls show 80 per cent of the population think the country is being overrun by foreigners, when the government isn't prepared to engage in the debate?

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