Labour's new prawn cocktail offensive

Miliband's drive to recruit business people as party candidates has raised some eyebrows.

In one of his most pointed interventions since leaving office, Tony Blair warned Labour MPs earlier this year that the party could not afford to "go into the next election without the support of a single CEO from a big company" as it did in 2010. Ed Miliband, who appeared with Blair at a party fundraiser last week, seems to have been listening.

At Labour's annual business reception tonight (in the rarefied surroundings of the Chartered Accountants' Hall in the City of London), Miliband will announce a new drive to recruit business people as parliamentary candidates. The Future Candidates Programme will offer mentoring for those who want to go from business into politics. According to the party, applicants do not need to be Labour Party members but "should share Labour values" and "be willing to join if selected to take part in the programme".

The decision to waive the requirement that one be a Labour member has already caused some to raise a sceptical eyebrow. Labour List's Mark Ferguson notes that "Joining a party to become a candidate isn’t necessarily the best way to get the best MPs and councillors…".

Of the programme, Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, said:

Not only do we want more people setting up businesses, leading businesses and working in businesses, we want more people from the world of business in our ranks - from our councillors to our MPs. There are some already: like our MPs in the shadow Business team; all of whom have set up and run businesses or worked for business, but we need more.

We know many people who go into business share our values: hard work, contributing to society, creating something from nothing, creating jobs, creating value. This is why we want to bolster the number of people from business in our ranks and from different walks of business life – from entrepreneurs to engineers, manufacturers to media marketers, architects to analysts, retailers to recruiters.

In a similar spirit, Umunna used his summer reception at Adam Street last night to announce a new campaign to save the private members' club, which is threatened with conversion into luxury flats. It was, he said, an important networking venue for business people and entrepreneurs.

What of the need to recruit more working class candidates, you may ask. Well, the two aims are not mutually exclusive - Labour can recruit working class business people - and Jon Trickett, the shadow cabinet office minister, recently launched a new programme to increase the number of working class candidates. All the same, some will note that that launch received considerably less promotion than today's. Where was the reception for working class applicants? (Miliband's appearance at the Durham miners' gala notwithstanding). And if business people are not expected to be existing Labour members, why should anyone be? Those are some of the questions Miliband and co will need to answer.

Ed Miliband will offer business people who are not Labour members the chance to become parliamentary candidates. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.