Mark Field’s new Conservatives for Managed Migration group hasn’t attracted overwhelming public support from MPs. When it launched this morning, it only had two Tory MPs openly signed up, with Field telling BBC News that ‘I think we have got quite a few supporters’ but refusing to give an exact number.
This might be causing No. 10 some satisfaction, although Downing Street sources are insisting that they are ‘relaxed’ about the group. It does, after all, argue that there is a ‘fundamental problem’ with the Conservatives’ net migration target. And there is considerable irritation among the Prime Minister’s advisers that MPs feel the need to set up new groups whenever they want to discuss a policy as these groups are inevitably read as a sign of a new Tory split on an issue.
However, I have spoken to a number of Conservative MPs today who do support Field’s group, but are biding their time before openly signing up for a number of reasons. Those who feel Field has a point are by no means from the lefty wing of the Tory party. One right-wing backbencher says it is ‘crazy to ban talented non-EU immigrants and have no control over unskilled EU migrants’. But the lack of public enthusiasm is partly down to a belief amongst MPs that Field is part of the anti-Cameron camp and this is a trouble-making group. Some feel that associating with it could harm their chances of promotion in any forthcoming reshuffle. Others know that it’s easier for Field to make this point when he is sitting on a 11,076 majority than it is for someone in a marginal seat where Ukip could cause problems.
But the point is that Field is encouraging debate on an issue that many have sympathy with in the Conservative party. And that means that whether or not Conservatives for Managed Migration have a big group of MPs backing them at launch, No. 10 probably shouldn’t feel too ‘relaxed’.