The hypocrisy of the hawks

From Blair to McCain, how can we take these people seriously on Libya and military action?

One of the weirdest features of the Libya crisis has been the re-emergence of T Blair. I was both annoyed and amused to see our former premier -- described by Saif Gaddafi as a "close personal friend" of the Gaddafi family -- penning pieces for the Times and the Sun in recent days, supporting military action against his (former) friends.

Then there's David Cameron's hypocrisy -- as I note in my feature piece in this week's magazine, the current premier has enthusiastically sent British jets to bomb a regime to which his own government last year issued £231m worth of arms exports licences (including the supply of small arms munition, tear gas and sniper rifles). Are we supposed just to forget this? Turn a blind eye?

But British hawks aren't the only hypocrites around. Take the pro-war Republican senator John McCain in the United States. Here's a report from the Associated Press from August 2009:

A delegation of US senators led by John McCain met with Libya's leader yesterday to discuss the possible delivery of non-lethal defence equipment. The visit and Washington's offer of military equipment was another sign of the improving ties between the former long-time adversaries.

"We discussed the possibility of moving ahead with the provision of non-lethal defence equipment to the government of Libya,'' McCain said during a press conference. He gave no details on the kind of military equipment Washington is offering.

So, back then, he was recommending the sale of military equipment to the Gaddafi-run Libya; these days, the same McCain is agitating for a ground war in Libya and the ouster of Gaddafi -- the same Gaddafi he praised in 2009.

In the sarcastic words of the HuffPo's Jason Linkins:

John McCain was in favour of supplying military aid to Gaddafi before he was for supplying military aid to the forces looking to topple Gaddafi.

Is it any wonder, then, why some of us are so suspicious about the motives of the so-called liberal interventionists?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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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.