Why Labour politicans hate each other and I loved reading Melanie Phillips

Tory tensions, "cowardly" killers, and Cameron's bunny ears.

Labour has a terrible problem and it must face it. Why do its leading figures hate each other so much more than the Tories hate each other? The past three years may have looked peaceable but that’s only because the press doesn’t pay much attention to opposition parties. The old tensions between the Brown and Blair camps are never far below the surface and Damian McBride’s serialised memoirs recall the intensity of the personal hatreds that seethed during 13 years of government and, in some cases, began earlier.
Tensions in the Tory party are mostly based on policy and ideology, usually to do with Europe. Michael Gove and Ken Clarke don’t get along because one is a Eurosceptic neocon and the other isn’t. Yet it was always hard to pin down the political differences between Blair and Brown. And why did Brown and the late Robin Cook hate each other? Why did Brown hate Ken Livingstone (later embracing him so warmly that no man could put them asunder)? Why did John Prescott and Margaret Beckett hate Cook?
There were other feuds that didn’t involve either Blair or Brown but even I now forget them. Nor were such feuds new for Labour governments. The 1945-51 administration was full of them. Someone once suggested to Ernest Bevin that Herbert Morrison was his own worst enemy. “Not while I’m alive, he ain’t,” Bevin replied.
Let’s face it, a coalition of separate parties has got along more amiably than Labour cabinets ever did.
Words to the wise
William Hague describes the terrorist attacks in Nairobi as “callous, cowardly and brutal”. I have no quarrel with “callous” and “brutal” but why “cowardly”? The word is nearly always used by politicians on these occasions. My New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines a coward as “a person who shows unworthy fear in the face of danger, pain or difficulty”, which hardly seems to fit the perpetrators of the Nairobi attacks.
What I suppose Hague and others mean is that the terrorists shot people who had no means of fighting back. The same, however, could be said of anyone who launches a drone attack or drops bombs from the air. In reality, “cowardly” is used to counter the terrorists’ description of themselves as “armies” and their members as “soldiers”, words that carry connotations of courage and self-sacrifice.
But as good stylists through the ages have advised, adjectives and adverbs, being frequently superfluous, are best kept to a minimum. What happened in Nairobi was horrible enough without rhetorical elaboration.
National wealth service
Another term that politicians use – and which we shall hear often as the Tory conference gets under way – is “wealth creators”. Labour will “penalise” them, warns Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary. Yet most of the people the Tories defend from high taxes don’t create wealth, except for themselves. The financial services industry – with its highly paid bankers, accountants, advisers, consultants, PRs, lawyers and salespeople – is entirely unproductive. It is best described as not wealthcreating but parasitic: levying what amounts to a tax that, according to some estimates, adds up to 25 per cent of everything we earn. To be sure, selling financial services overseas creates British jobs and helps the balance of payments – but governments should promote better ways of earning our living.
Mannish Monday
One should mourn Melanie Phillips’s departure from her Monday-morning column in the Daily Mail and not just because, after reading her, one knew the week could only get better. Her replacement, the former Sunday Telegraph editor Dominic Lawson, brings to 12 the number of men who occupy regular slots in the main section of the Mail – excluding business, sport, travel, and so on – against just four women, none of whom normally appears in the slot next to the leader, which is reserved for heavyweight political and policy issues. And this is supposed to be the women’s paper.
Jumping on the bandwagon
Pompous denunciations greeted the “bunny ears” sign that the rugby player Manu Tuilagi made above David Cameron’s head during a photo shoot at a Downing Street reception for the British Lions after their victorious tour of Australia.
“Unforgivable” was the common verdict of rugby pundits – many of them former players from the amateur era, when it was routine for touring parties to trash hotels – though Cameron promptly tweeted forgiveness after Tuilagi apologised. But what do prime ministers expect when they invite boisterous young men for drinks at No 10?
To my mind, Tuilagi’s gesture was an appropriate commentary on how politicians scramble to jump aboard any bandwagon of sporting success.
British and Irish Lions rugby player Manu Tuilagi gives Cameron bunny ears. Image: Getty

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 30 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Game of Thrones

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.