Gordon's retribution, Chavez's defeat

The PM gets his own back for Vince Cable's Mr Bean jibe and the blogosphere rejoices as Chavez loses

With Vince Cable’s Mr Bean jibe still ringing in many MPs’ ears, PMQs provided the PM with an opportunity to bite back. Adam Boulton describes the scene: “Vince Cable got lost with lacklustre questions on Northern Rock. Brown got his own back for Mr Bean suggesting Cable was ‘better at jokes than economics’. No pretty footwork but the prime minister was still on his feet at the end of the half hour.”

As the Labour Party funding fiasco continues to niggle the government, Luke Akehurst took offence to a Yasmin Alibhai-Brown article in the Independent which suggested the Labour Friends of Israel were somehow involved. Akehurst describes the article as “winner of most idiotic and unhelpful contribution to the debate on Party funding”, and concludes: “I cannot understand what, other than anti-Semitism, would motivate someone to write a whole column whose only hook was the shared ethnicity of David Abrahams and Jonny Mendelsohn.”

Over in Venezuela, President Chavez narrowly lost a controversial vote that would have changed the constitution to allow him to be re-elected. The condemnation of his attempt, and rejoice at the outcome of the vote, was widespread across the UK political blogosphere.

David T at Harry’s Place writes: “I think Chavez is more of a fool than a monster. Perhaps he is not as bad as some of his strongest critics hold. Nevertheless, I find the adulation heaped upon this rather comic man - more of a Peron than an Allende - in some parts of the Left difficult to understand … This result illustrates that Venezuelans have an affection for a robust democracy, and prefer to keep their leaders on an electoral leash to government by coup.”

While Lenin’s Tomb is more sympathetic, seeing the result not so much as anti-Chavez as more pro-democracy: “The reality is probably that Chavez’s supporters were simply unwilling to turn out to vote for a constitution among whose main priorities was to enhance executive power. This was always the most problematic aspect of Chavez’s reforms. Unfortunately, this result will probably strengthen the rightist opposition, despite the continuing popularity of Chavez and his other reforms.”

Finally, on Monday Iain Dale announced he would be leaving 18 Doughty Street to concentrate on launching a new political magazine and write a book. Let’s hope it does not interfere with his blogging duties.

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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