Tory poll lead down 5 points

Is this a negative reaction to Osborne's austere speech?

When not blogging for Free Speech, I also run the NS polls guide, and the YouGov/Sky News poll released a few minutes ago caught my eye. It puts the Conservatives on 40 per cent, with Labour on 31 per cent and the Lib Dems on 18 per cent. Not only is this Labour's highest level of support since April, but the Tories' lead has shrunk from 14 points to 9 points. The Conservatives need to win by at least 9 per cent to be sure of a Commons majority and anything less than this puts us in hung parliament territory.

Could the new figures be a negative reaction to George Osborne's austere speech which, for some, promised a freeze in their pay and cuts to their tax credits, as well as a rise in the retirement age? The first poll conducted after his speech boosted the Tories but it's possible the more in-depth coverage has shifted the public mood. We'll find out tomorrow whether David Cameron's attempt at optimism can reverse this slide.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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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