|James Cleverly, Tory candidate for Lewisham East, with Michael Howard
Tory candidate for Lewisham East James Cleverly has jumped to the defence of his leader Michael Howard following a weekend of intense criticism from other parties.
Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes led the attack on Howard claiming the Tories were “pandering to racism”.
The Conservative leader recieved a further setback when the Police Federation warned politicians not to make political capital out of the death of a policeman killed by an asylum seeker.
Howard claimed Algerian Kamel Bourgass would not have had an opportunity to murder PC Stephen Oake if he had been deported after his asylum claim was rejected.
|Simon Hughes: hardhitting criticism
Tory vice-chair Dr Liam Fox went further, claiming the government were “culpable” for PC Oake's death.
But Sergeant Paul Kelly, chair of the Greater Manchester Police Federation, said PC Oake's widow, Lesley, did not want her husband's death “turned into a political football”.
Lib Dem President Simon Hughes said: “I think the Tories are pandering to racism. I'm quite unequivocal about it. I think it's despicable, and I think coming from a Michael Howard party. With his family history, it's even more despicable.
“They say, the Tories, that you can have an arbitrary limit on who comes and can apply for asylum and be granted.
|Tories are pandering to racism – it's despicable.
|Simon Hughes MP
“That means that the first person, 50 years ago, fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany who got here would have been allowed in, but the second person might not.
'I resent and reject that policy. If we're going to be a decent country, those people should be allowed to knock on our door, and we should be allowed to take them in. That's not what the Tories currently are arguing for.”
But former army major James Cleverly, one of 39 Black and ethnic minority candidates fielded by the Conservatives, defended his party's policies.
Cleverly told Blink that Simon Hughes was guilty of playing on the public's fears and prejudices. “He is making veiled attacks accusing us of racism without having the guts to back up his comments.
“Rather than constructively criticise our proposals other parties are simply saying we are pandering to racists. It is the chaos of the asylum system that is feeding racism.
“Under our policies people will know that those arriving are playing fair and genuinely deserve to be here. Our policies of border police and of knowing who is coming here will in fact disable racism.”
Cleverly said the Lib Dems asylum and immigration proposals amounted to an “open door… which would play into the hands of racists.”
|Michael Howard puts his best foot forward
Labour's culture secretary Tessa Jowell also criticised Tory asylum plans claiming the issue had been “stirred up to appeal to people's fears.”
She added: “That's why I think you have to handle immigration in the context of an election campaign with great delicacy.”
Opinion polls over the weekend showed the Conservatives winning on asylum and immigration.
A Labour candidate in a safe seat told Blink last week Labour were concerned about how the issue was playing on the doorsteps.
But the bad news for Howard was that support for his stance on asylum was not yet translating into voting intentions. A poll for the Sunday Telegraph showed Labour had a ten point lead over the Conservatives, their highest for two years.
That would translate into a 152 to 158-seat landslide Labour majority, only marginally lower than the last Parliament. The poll revealed support for Labour on all the other key issues, including health and the economy.
David Cameron, the Conservative Party head of policy co-ordination, has defended his party's approach to asylum and immigration from accusations of stirring up racist attitudes.
He said: 'I think that it's very important to talk about this issue and to address it sensibly and soberly and come up with proposals to make sure that we have the right immigration policy.
'I think that immigration is a good thing. I think this country benefits economically, socially and culturally from immigration.
“But I think it's important that we have a system that is both controlled and fair, and I think at the moment we have a system that is not particularly well-controlled, and is not particularly fair.”