Alastair Campbell strikes more positive note on Ed Miliband

Independent on Sunday interviewee clarifies his position.

Following the Independent on Sunday's coverage of its interview with Alastair Campbell, which I blogged on earlier, Campbell has issued some remarks that clarify his comments and appear to show him very slightly less opposed to the prospect of an Ed Miliband leadership (Campbell backs David Miliband) than he seemed at first sight. Apologies to those readers who are sick of anything relating to Campbell on this blog, but I think the passage below is worth reading if you're interested in the contest.

First of all, thanks to the Independent on Sunday for devoting two pages to an interview pegged to the publication of Prelude to Power, which also mentions (and has pictures of the front covers of) All In The Mind and Maya, my two novels.

But . . . and I think journalists know me well enough to know there is likely to be a but after such lavish thanks . . . a modest grumble if I may about its presentation in the rest of the paper, which rather lends support to my argument about the real spin doctors being the editors, reporters and headline writers.

Here's a quote (and to be fair to interviewer John Rentoul, who had one of those old-fashioned tape recorders, I am sure all the quotes are accurate) from the section of the interview where we were talking about the four former Cabinet ministers vying to succeed GB as Labour leader, David and Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham . . .

"They have all grown. I got on very well with Ed [Balls] during the campaign. But in the end you've got to make a judgment. Of all of them, I think David [Miliband] has got the most rounded political and policy skills that you need. I'm a pragmatist about this. I think about who can take on Cameron best. They've all got strengths. I think the thing with Ed Miliband is that he's a really nice guy, but you've got to differentiate between making the party feel OK about losing and actually then making the party face up to what it needs to do to get into shape again. It's the latter that you have to look for, and I think David's got that."

And here is a Page 1 strapline . . . Alastair Campbell exclusive interview: "Ed Miliband is a nice guy but he'd only make Labour feel OK about losing."

Now, if you can bear with me, go back to the actual quote, and note the subtle but significant change secured by inserting the word "only" in the strapline. I was trying to explain why I was backing David M over the other three, without denigrating his opponents. The quote just about achieved that, I think, but the strapline moves close to denigration territory. And it is in quote marks. Therefore you would be entitled to think I said it, exactly in those terms.

Then there was a small news story on Page 2, and here the headline is even starker . . . "Campbell: Ed Miliband isn't up to leading Labour." Again, I think you would be hard-pressed to say that I actually said that. He has many strengths and there are clearly serious people in the party who think he is the man to lead Labour into the future, and I can see why. I just happen to have reached the view that his brother would be better. It does not mean that he "isn't up to leading Labour".

James Macintyre is political correspondent for 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.