Weekend Round-Up -- 15 September 2008

The commentariat was wrong-footed by the Labour rebellion, but it's running to catch up.

It was a difficult balancing act, keeping abreast of the Liberal conference (no one mentions the Democrat bit any more) while watching the Labour Party tearing itself apart.

Andrew Rawnsley did his best to sum up the situation for Nick Clegg and the implications of a Liberal Democrat drift to the right for Labour.

This we can say for certain. The repositioning of the Lib Dems is further bad news for Gordon Brown or whoever else takes Labour into the next election.
The Clegg strategy makes the atmospherics of politics even more hostile to the government. When the Lib Dems join the Tories in deploring the level of taxation and decrying government waste, Labour is left looking isolated and less credible when it tries to defend its record. As if things were not dire enough already for Labour, they now face the prospect that the next general election will be two against one.

But most columnists concentrated on Labour's woes. I thought Matthew d'Ancona was wrong to play down the crisis for the Prime Minsiter.

Next week's conference will have its rumblings and its distractions, but it will also - by definition - be Mr Brown's show and his unity rally.

There will be squalls, coded criticisms and a beauty contest between the potential leadership contenders. But there will not be outright rebellion.

This is not a time for predictions, as the BBC's Nick Robinson discovered.

Janet Daley was on form this morning. I love her challenge to the big men in the Cabinet to stick their heads above the parapet rather than leaving it to braver women on the backbenches.

Watching that procession of female Labour MPs nobody's ever heard of flinging themselves over the cliff at the weekend, I was reminded of Margaret Thatcher's remark: 'In politics, when you want something said, ask a man. When you want something done, ask a woman.'

This characteristically perceptive insight may help to explain why it has been a procession of little girls who have been prepared to sacrifice themselves for the greater good and dared to demand a leadership election, while the big, brave men in Cabinet have cowered in the shadows."

Marvellous stuff.

But the best piece of the weekend was by Nick Cohen in the Observer, who identified a canker eating at the heart of Gordon Brown's 10 Downing Street. In a piece with the glorious headline Call Off Your Mafioso Aides, Mr Brown, Cohen condemns the briefing operation carried out against Brown's critics such as Ivan Lewis. He concludes:

Many are now grasping that no law says Gordon Brown is the only Labour politician allowed to use the sneak attack; that nothing in the Labour party's constitution prevents his targets responding in kind.

As rebels challenge his leadership this weekend, Brown should make his case for continuing in power honourably and fight his critics in the open. If he does not, he will find that the tactics of his made men will destroy his premiership.

As someone who has experienced at first hand the inept mafioso tactics of Brown's political gangsters, I could not agree more.

Getty
Show Hide image

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.

0800 7318496