Commons Confidential

Hoon's unexploding underpants

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Pauline Neville-Jones, a figure straight out of a Bond movie -- although think Judi Dench rather than Eva Green -- has spooked the Tory hardmen Chris Grayling and Liam Fox. The shadow home and defence spokesmen forced David Cameron to deny his national security adviser her promised cabinet-level post. The baroness, once chair of Whitehall's Joint Intelligence Committee, will be tucked away in the Home Office if the Cons win in May. Fighting terrorism seems to have taken a back seat to Tory infighting.

The Labour plotter Geoff "Buff" Hoon is still suffering Talibrown recriminations. One party loyalist spat that the Very Rubbish Coup fell flat when Hoon's underpants failed to explode. Another argued that they detonated but, like the Christmas Day bomber, Hoon only scorched his own privates. More sinisterly, a minister recalled Hoon moaning of mistreatment by Tony Blair, exclaiming: "After all the lies I've told for him!" What could Hoon have meant?

Andrew Mitchell is following in the tyre tracks of the Tory Lycra louts David Cameron and Boris Johnson. The banker-cum-overseas aid spokesman narrowly missed the heavily pregnant ITV hackette Alex Forrest on a Westminster pedestrian crossing. She protested loudly as Mitchell sped off into the dark without stopping. The frontbencher later rang to congratulate feisty Forrest on her impending motherhood -- but curiously offered no apology.

The Bible-quoting blogger Alastair "Now We Do God" Campbell fancies himself as a new Piers Morgan but TV isn't so keen, a producer whispered. Nor is Comical Ali's pride in the Iraq war likely to land him the newspaper column he covets. Meanwhile the onetime spinner's nemesis, Andrew Gilligan, has been busy. A snout muttered that round at Boris Johnson's London pad, Gilligan had been enlisted to help pull down a summer house in the garden.

The US shock jock Michael Savage, banned from Britain, wants the ban lifted so he can visit plants donated to Kew Gardens 40 years ago in his given name, Weiner. Kew has no record of them, and is in no hurry, I hear, to get to the root of the problem.

Tessa Jowell is recuperating after a knee op. A colleague wondered if she had worn out the joint with all those years of bending it to Blair.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

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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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