The IMF spoils the coalition's relaunch

Forecast for UK growth is downgraded by more than any other G8 country.

David Cameron is increasingly keen to draw attention to what he calls the coalition's "achievements": cutting the deficit by a quarter, capping benefits, creating hundreds of new academies, reforming public sector pensions and so on. We learned today that the government will shortly publish a "mid-term review" highlighting its "successes". But the IMF has just provided a reminder of one of the coalition's failures: its inability to generate growth.

In its latest World Economic Outlook, the Fund downgraded its forecast for UK growth by more than any other G8 country. It now expects the UK to grow by just 0.2 per cent this year (down from a previous forecast of 0.8 per cent) and by 1.4 per cent next year (down from 2 per cent). The Q2 GDP figures, which will be released this month, will almost certainly show that we remain in recession, a further blow to George Osborne's diminished authority.

But in his defence, Osborne will point out that the IMF has again endorsed his deficit reduction plan. It states that the UK has "appropriately maintained its commitments to balance the structural current budget within five years and to put net debt on a declining path, with additional consolidation in store in 2015–17." Despite previously stating that the UK should enact fiscal stimulus (through "temporary tax cuts and greater infrastructure spending")  if activity continues to "undershoot current expectations" (which it has), the IMF appears to have fallen prey to another bout of fiscal hawkery.

Chancellor George Osborne leaves 11 Downing Street on July 10, 2012 in London. 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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