A formidable obstacle to a Lab-Lib coalition

The enduring hostility between the two party's activists could scupper a deal.

As the Lib Dems' poll surge shows no sign of abating, Labour ministers are beginning to dream again of a progressive coalition between the two parties that allows Gordon Brown to remain prime minister.

But one formidable obstacle to any political cooperation remains the fierce hostility between the two party's activists.

The leaflet below (from the excellent The Straight Choice) is an example of the sort of crude tactics Labour often uses against the Lib Dems at a local level. It combines an attack on the party as "soft" on murderers with an assault on the Lib Dems' support for the European Union.

The leaflet, distributed on behalf of Labour MP Roger Godsiff, even echoes Thatcher in declaring "no, no, no" to the European Court's ruling that the UK's ban on prisoners voting is illegal.

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The ill feeling towards Labour that such tactics encourage wouldn't be such a problem if it wasn't for the notorious "triple lock" that binds Nick Clegg in any hung parliament talks. Imposed on Paddy Ashdown in 1998, it requires a Lib Dem leader to seek the approval of members and MPs before entering into a formal coalition.

The smear campaigns that both parties have run against each other mean that few will be willing to kiss and make up after 6 May.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leave will leap on the immigration rise, but Brexit would not make much difference

Non-EU migration is still well above the immigration cap, which the government is still far from reaching. 

On announcing the quarterly migration figures today, the Office for National Statistics was clear: neither the change in immigration levels, nor in emigration levels, nor in the net figure is statistically significant. That will not stop them being mined for political significance.

The ONS reports a 20,000 rise in net long-term international migration to 333,000. This is fuelled by a reduction in emigration: immigration itself is actually down very slightly (by 2,000) on the year ending in 2014, but emigration has fallen further – by 22,000.

So here is the (limited) short-term significance of that. The Leave campaign has already decided to pivot to immigration for the final month of the referendum campaign. Arguments about the NHS, about sovereignty, and about the bloated bureaucracy in Brussels have all had some utility with different constituencies. But none has as much purchase, especially amongst persuadable Labour voters in the north, as immigration. So the Leave campaign will keep talking about immigration and borders for a month, and hope that a renewed refugee crisis will for enough people turn a latent fear into a present threat.

These statistics make adopting that theme a little bit easier. While it has long been accepted by everyone except David Cameron and Theresa May that the government’s desired net immigration cap of 100,000 per year is unattainable, watch out for Brexiters using these figures as proof that it is the EU that denies the government the ability to meet it.

But there are plenty of available avenues for the Remain campaign to push back against such arguments. Firstly, they will point out that this is a net figure. Sure, freedom of movement means the British government does not have a say over EU nationals arriving here, but it is not Jean-Claude Juncker’s fault if people who live in the UK decide they quite like it here.

Moreover, the only statistically significant change the ONS identify is a 42 per cent rise in migrants coming to the UK “looking for work” – hardly signalling the benefit tourism of caricature. And though that cohort did not come with jobs, the majority (58 per cent) of the 308,000 migrants who came to Britain to work in 2015 had a definite job to go to.

The Remain campaign may also point out that the 241,000 short-term migrants to the UK in the year ending June 2014 were far outstripped by the 420,000 Brits working abroad. Brexit, and any end to freedom of movement that it entailed, could jeopardise many of those jobs for Brits.

There is another story that the Remain campaign should make use of. Yes, the immigration cap is a joke. But it has not (just) been made into a joke by the EU. Net migration from non-EU countries is at 188,000, a very slight fall from the previous year but still higher than immigration from EU countries. That alone is far above the government’s immigration cap. If the government cannot bring down non-EU migration, then the Leave argument that a post-EU Britain would be a low-immigration panacea is hardly credible. Don’t expect that to stop them making it though. 

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.