The new Lib Dem plan to win electoral reform

The use of proportional representation for elections to the Lords could revive the debate.

One overlooked reason why the Lib Dems are so desperate to secure House of Lords reform is that it would revive the debate around electoral reform. The likely use of proportional representation (PR) to elect the second chamber (as proposed by the government) would allow Nick Clegg to portray the Commons as a less legitimate body and argue for reform to bring it into line with the Lords.

The party president Tim Farron has already argued that "Members elected in a different Chamber by the single transferable vote will have greater legitimacy than those elected to the Commons on a system of first-past-the-post" (see p. 14 of the joint committee report on Lords reform).

As Lib Dem blogger Mark Thompson recently pointed out, it is important to remember that the public did not reject proportional representation last year. They rejected the Alternative Vote, a system that, in some circumstances, can prove even less proportional than first-past-the-post.

Indeed, the No2AV campaign observed:

There are strong principled arguments for and against PR, and it's a debate worth having. The Alternative Vote, however, is a step backward rather than a step forward. AV combines the weaknesses of both systems; it isn't proportional – three out of the last four elections would have been more disproportional under AV

Whether or not the inclusion of a proportional option on the ballot paper would have changed the outcome, it is undeniable that the public have not been consulted on this point.

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. Photograph: Getty Images.

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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