Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak could adopt a more open approach to migration without damaging their electoral prospects, according to a study by a left-of-centre thinktank.
Data on voting intentions and attitudes to immigration examined by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) suggests that a more flexible approach would attract many more swing voters than it would repel for Labour.
The Conservatives’ restrictive policy on immigration now alienates as many swing voters as it attracts, a study released today has concluded.
The report was released after both political parties appeared to toughen their stances on immigration.
On Tuesday, Starmer called for a plan to train British workers and move the economy away from its “low-pay model” in a speech to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
Labour sources say he wants to convince “red wall” voters that he understands concerns about high levels of immigration and wants to make Brexit work.
Sunak last week promised to cut overall migration to the UK – a promise that was never fulfilled under David Cameron or Theresa May – and said his priority was to “stop numbers of people coming here illegally”.
An illustrative model in the IPPR report, which focuses on swing voters most likely to switch parties, shows that Labour could attract 5% of the public and only repel 2% by signalling a more open approach to immigration.
Only 1% of the general public would be attracted to Labour if it adopted a restrictive stance on immigration, the paper said, and 11% would be repelled.
The Conservatives would attract 3% and repel 2%, using the model of voting behaviour focusing on the swing voters most likely to switch parties. For the Tories, a restrictive stance would attract just 2% of the public and an equal number would be repelled.
The analysis comes after a decade of warming public attitudes to immigration, with half of the public expressing positive views on migration compared with a third in 2014.
Rob Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester and co-author of the report, said: “There has been a sea change in public opinion on immigration in the past decade, unlocking a centre-ground majority for an immigration system which combines clear and well enforced rules with open, flexible policies to maximise the gains from immigration, compassion to those fleeing conflict and generosity to those who have made their homes in Britain.”