Will Cameron suspend Tory councillor in race row?

Gerry Forsbrey declared: "I don’t want to be the nigger in the woodpile".

Every so often, one is reminded how the Tory brand became so toxic. Last week, a Conservative councillor was suspended after telling a bisexual independent councillor, "with a bit of luck, you'll get AIDS." Then there was the Tory who suggested that those with "self-inflicted" illnesses (such as obesity) should be forced to move out of Surrey to free up NHS resources.

Now we learn of the case of Gerry Forsbrey, a Tory councillor for Spelthorne who declared during a council planning committee debate: "I don’t want to be the nigger in the woodpile."

Forsbrey, a member of the council since 1998 and the cabinet member responsible for planning and housing, is yet to be suspended from the party. So far only the Evening Standard has covered the story but it deserves wider coverage.

I'm hoping to get a comment from the Conservative press office and from Forsbrey's MP Kwasi Kwarteng tomorrow morning.

Update: Forsbrey has now apologised for the comment.

In a letter to fellow councillors, he wrote: "I have spoken to the Council’s Monitoring Officer last night about the Planning Committee on 30 May 2012.

"I recognise that it is an old fashioned phrase and that people may well take offence at the language.

"With hindsight, I should not have made my point with those words. I had no desire to offend anybody and would offer you my unreserved apology for any offence caused."

Given that Cameron previously refused to suspend a peer who used the same phrase, it looks like Forsbrey's position is safe.

David Cameron at last year's Conservative conference in Manchester. 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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