'Witch-hunt' forces ministers to own up to foreign cleaners

'Are you employing - or have you ever employed - a foreign cleaner?' It's the new 'McCarthy' question

Column LAST UPDATED AT 08:01 ON Mon 10 Mar 2014

THERE is a whiff of McCarthyism sweeping through Westminster after the new Tory immigration minister, James Brokenshire, attacked the "wealthy metropolitan elite" for using foreign nannies and cleaners rather than British workers.

Senior Lib Dem Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has admitted to using a Portuguese cleaner in the family home.

Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, has confessed to employing a "lady who has a Belgian passport who helps us". And the Home Office has said Home Secretary Theresa May's cleaner is "a British citizen but she was born in Brazil".

What is more – and it raises the question, what on earth was Brokenshire thinking - the Camerons have also used a Nepalese nanny. Samantha Cameron's name was on her application form for British citizenship in 2010.

As Andrew Neil said on his BBC Sunday Politics show, "It's the new McCarthy question." More and politicians are likely to be asked  the question: "Are you now employing - or have you ever employed - a foreign cleaner?"

Meanwhile Clegg and his Lib Dem colleagues are taking the moral high ground, by insisting they have nothing to apologise for if they hire workers from the EU who are in Britain legally.

The Lib Dem leader used his keynote speech to his party's spring conference yesterday in York to attack Tory Eurosceptics and Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, for "backward-looking" politics. He might as well have added Brokenshire's name to the list.

Clegg is showing laudible honesty by lashing out at Ukip "bile" over Europe and branding himself as the only party leader who is unashamedly a Europhile. He is standing for an "in" vote in the promised post-election in-out EU referendum while Cameron, despite his personal belief in Europe, flirts with the "out" brigade.

Despite repeated poll findings showing that curbs on immigration are hugely popular among British voters, the Lib Dems in York bravely committed themselves to fighting the next election on easing immigration rules to allow more spouses and grandparents of immigrants to join them in Britain.

Whether this is serious politics or not - some will applaud the Lib Dems simply for giving two fingers to popular opinion on immigration - it is unlikely to help them improve their standing in the opinion polls, many of which have shown support for the party languishing in single figures, putting them well behind Ukip. 

The problem with Clegg's brave stand is not just the risk of coming a humiliating fourth in the European Parliament elections on 22 May – it's the added danger of his party becoming a laughing stock. 

An Elvis impersonator called David Laurence beat the Lib Dem candidate into last place the other day for a Nottinghamshire council seat, prompting Andrew Neil to ask Danny Alexander yesterday whether he could do a decent Elvis impersonation.

Clegg tried to laugh off the embarrassment. His spokesman said the party were "all shook up" after Laurence, a pensioner dressed in a red cat suit (from Elvis's rhinestone period) and standing as the Bus Pass Elvis Party candidate, won 67 votes to the Lib Dem candidate's 56.

But Clegg should remember the lesson from the Bootle by-election in May 1990 when David Owen's SDP were humiliated by Screaming Lord Sutch's Monster Raving Looney Party candidate. Owen soon decided the party was over, and called it a day. ·