Why Labour’s Twitter twit had to go

Candidates need to learn that they can’t say on Twitter what they wouldn’t say in public.

So Twitter has claimed its first political scalp. Once the Labour candidate Stuart MacLennan's abusive tweets were uncovered today, his position looked untenable to me.

Strangely, less than half an hour before he was removed, the Scottish Secretary, Jim Murphy, was still insisting that MacLennan would remain the party's candidate for Moray and was fighting off Tory and SNP calls for his head. But clearly once Labour high command realised the extent of the abuse, there was no chance of Murphy winning the argument.

Some commenters on my earlier post disagreed with me when I suggested that candidates should learn that they can't say on Twitter what they wouldn't say on Newsnight or Today.

By this I don't mean that they should adopt the same tone or manner, but rather that they should approach everything they say and write as if it's designed for public consumption. In the case of Twitter, where tweets can be viewed by non-followers, it's hard to think of a more public medium.

With this in mind, it's hard to see how someone who describes pensioners as "coffin-dodgers" and jokes about "slave-grown" bananas could ever hope to represent the public in parliament.

But MacLennan is nothing if not prophetic. On 6 April he tweeted: "Iain Dale reckons the biggest gaffes will be made by candidates on Twitter -- what are the odds that it will be me?"

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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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