The Tories' manifesto says 'we will ensure 24 hour surveillance at our ports'. It's later come out that it's only at 35 of the major air and sea ports. Fair enough, one might say; as Oliver Letwin said on the Today programme (yesterday, I think), if a container ship full of immigrants suddenly arrives at Lyme Regis people might notice, not least of all because a container ship would run aground some distance from the shore.

Explain to me, someone, why we need 24-hour surveillance at airports. There are no flights between about midnight and six o'clock at major airports. I would risk saying that there is bugger all point guarding Heathrow against immigration at those times of day when, unless immigrants are performing Icarean feats and crashing to earth in the western reaches of London, no-one is going to arrive when there are no planes landing.

Moving onto sea ports. If you look at a map of Spain, you will see that the southernmost point is a promontory pointing at Africa, southwest of Gibraltar, with a town called Tarifa on it. The actual southernmost point and supposed location of the northern pillar of Hercules is called Punta Paloma, or Dove Point. One of the most pathetic (by which I mean deserving of pathos) sights it has been my misfortune to witness was on a bus full of kids from the summer camp I was working on travelling to the beach at Punta Paloma. The car in front of us stopped as a man had walked up from the beach and collapsed onto the edge of the road and the people in that car were rendering him assistance while waiting for an ambulance. We found out later that he had just arrived from the northern coast of Africa. He had crossed the treacherous Straits of Gibraltar in a patera - little more than a rubber dinghy - and had collapsed from exposure and exhaustion. After being released from hospital, he was deported.

My point is this: people don't arrive en masse in roros. If people come to Britain (or anywhere else) by trying to slip past border controls unnoticed, they do so in small groups to small ports. Having 24 hour security at Southampton won't make any difference to illegal immigration. For starters, most people who are illegal immigrants are people overstaying tourist visas or temporary work permits (principally Antipodeans). There are very few arriving in a manner that would be stopped by more border controls. The difference it would make, I suspect, is in the public's view, as we would be Tough On Immigration, And Certainly Tougher Than The Other Lot.

Now, I think all this talk about immigration is poisonous. Apart from the fact that I want more immigration, it deeply worries me that the Tories are talking about immigration in such a patently uninformed way. Maybe I was being terribly naive and so on, but I was holding out hope that the Tories actually had looked into it and took a position that I just disagreed with. This really does seem like little more than base prejudice.

Thinking about it, that poor sod who collapsed on the road was not the most pathetic sight I have seen. If you saw Michael Palin's Sahara, it ended with a shot of a broken wooden fishing boat at Punta Paloma (it has been there for years - I have photos to prove it) with Palin's voiceover talking about pateras and illegal immigration across the Straits. All along that stretch of coast are similar looking vessels. The prize, I think, goes to one I saw that I thought was an truck tyre inner tube to begin with but was actually, it would seem, what someone entrusted their life and hope to.



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