Cameron steps up action against Warsi - but not Hunt

How much longer can the PM maintain this blatant double standard?

It has not been a good bank holiday weekend for Sayeeda Warsi. The charges against the Conservative Party chairman have escalated, and now David Cameron has referred the case to Sir Alex Allan, his independent adviser on ministers’ interests. Allan will consider whether Warsi has broken the ministerial code.

The referral came after Warsi wrote to the Prime Minister admitting that she did not tell civil servants that she and her husband’s second cousin, Abid Hussain, were both shareholders in a spice manufacturing firm when they visited Pakistan together on government business. This is a serious blow, and could lead to a long investigation. Warsi already faces a Lords’ inquiry and a possible police inquiry into her expenses (my colleague George Eaton has a detailed outline of the accusations against Warsi here).

Warsi does not, at present, appear to have many supporters within her own party, although Louise Mensch told the Today programme this morning that the charges against her were “very minor”.

What is really very striking is the contrast to the treatment of Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, who Cameron has repeatedly refused to refer over allegations that he broke the ministerial code three times while overseeing the defunct BSkyB bid. As the level of contact between Hunt and James Murdoch became apparent last week, Cameron remained steadfast, telling the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that what Hunt said privately or publicly about the bid was irrelevant:

How he gave himself, in the words of the Permanent Secretary, a ‘vanishingly small room to manoeuvre’ in terms of how he ran that bid process, and he ran it very well and I think reached the right conclusions.

It is mind-boggling that the Prime Minister has maintained this position. Indeed, even Hunt’s last manoeuvre to stay in the job – namely, blaming his special adviser Adam Smith for inappropriate levels of contact with News Corp – is a breach of the code, which states that ministers should be responsible for the conduct of their special advisers.

Although the thorough investigation of Warsi may be an attempt to deflect attention, and a reflection of the fact that there have separately been grumblings of discontent about her competence, this looks like plain and simple hypocrisy. The Labour MP Michael Dugher phrased it well:

David Cameron's actions in this case draw into sharp relief his refusal to hold a similar investigation into Jeremy Hunt … Cameron is bending over backwards to defend Jeremy Hunt because he knows that it is his own judgment, in appointing a man he knew to be biased to oversee the BSkyB bid, that is in question.

How much longer can this be maintained?
 

Conservative chairman Baroness Warsi uses an iPad in the House of Lords. Photograph: Getty Images.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for 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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