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Déjà vu. Labour tribalists block a “progressive majority” - again

Beckett, Blunkett and Reid should hang their heads in shame.

If David Cameron wins a Commons majority at the next general election, on redrawn boundaries and under first-past-the-post, he should send a personal note of thanks to a former acting Labour leader and two former Labour home secretaries. Margaret Beckett, John Reid and David Blunkett were at the forefront of the Tory-funded, ultra-conservative No to AV campaign, loudly defending the dysfunctional electoral system that helped deliver the 20th century to the Conservative Party.

Beckett was president of No to AV; Reid shared a platform with Cameron for a joint No to AV campaign event on 17 April; Blunkett, meanwhile, on the eve of the referendum, cheerily confessed to having been fully aware of the No to AV campaign's lies and smears.

AV looks likely to be defeated. The result isn't out till this evening but I hear YouGov is predicting a 2:1 majority for the No side.

Do you get a sense of déjà vu? Just a year ago, it was Blunkett and Reid who led the (successful) attempt to scupper a "rainbow coalition" between Labour, the Lib Dems and the nationalists, preferring to luxuriate in opposition as Cameron, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith squeezed the middle and demonised the poor.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform our broken, majoritarian voting system that disenfranchises millions of voters and puts power in the hands of a hundred thousand or so "swing" voters in "Middle England" marginal seats has been lost. It was our last chance – supporters of PR who opposed AV, such as the RMT's Bob Crow, whom I debated on the Jeremy Vine show yesterday, were perhaps asleep when Osborne pointed out that a No vote in the referendum would settle the issue of electoral reform "for the foreseeable future". He's right.

But John Harris and Guido Fawkes are wrong: there is a progressive, social-democratic, anti-Tory majority in this country, a majority of voters who back well-funded public services and redistributive taxation. The problem is that it doesn't have a hope in hell of being represented until the likes of Blunkett, Reid, Beckett, John Prescott and the rest – David Cameron's "useful idiots" inside the Labour Party – get out of the way.

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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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.