Would Brown's head be the price of a Lab-Lib pact?

Speculation grows as poll shows Lib Dem supporters favour Brown over Cameron.

Nick Clegg may be determined to remain equidistant between Labour and the Conservatives but his party's voters aren't. The latest Independent/ComRes poll shows that while 46 per cent of Lib Dem supporters would be happy with a deal that allows Gordon Brown to stay on as prime minister in a hung parliament, only 31 per cent would be happy if David Cameron became prime minister in these circumstances.

It proves that despite Clegg's line that both the main parties are as bad as each other, Lib Dem voters continue to recognise Labour as a more progressive force than the Conservatives.

It also suggests that any tactical votes from Lib Dems are still more likely to go to Labour than the Tories. Recent research by PoliticsHome found that, contrary to expectations, tactical voting could rise at the election.

But the main stumbling block to a Lab-Lib coalition remains the fact that Clegg's hostility towards Labour isn't purely tactical: he can't stand Gordon Brown.

The possibility that the Lib Dems will demand Brown's head as the price of any pact has been raised before and in today's Times, the well-sourced Rachel Sylvester suggests that Labour ministers are prepared to grant it.

She writes:

With Cabinet ministers openly discussing the prospect of coalition, the question of the Labour leadership is back on the agenda. David Miliband is seen as the candidate most likely to appeal to Mr Clegg, although some point out that Alan Johnson has long supported the Lib Dems' favourite policy of PR. The suggestion is that the party's elder statesmen -- Lord Mandelson, Jack Straw or Alistair Darling -- could ask Mr Brown to stand aside to give Labour a chance of retaining power. It's hard to see him going easily -- but it is being discussed.

Given that Labour is famously sentimental towards its leaders (one of the reasons Brown survived all three coup attempts) and that to deny the Tories a majority would be a remarkable personal victory for him, Brown will be hard to shift.

But we can expect this question to become ever more prominent if support for the Lib Dems remains at anything like its present level.

Update: Sunny Hundal says that Labour should prepare to ditch Brown now.

 

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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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