Is Cameron set to offer Clegg the Alternative Vote?

System would preserve the constituency link and could benefit the Tories.

The negotiations between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives are so secretive that we can only guess what the sticking points might be. But Benedict Brogan's report in today's Telegraph is the best account I've read of the state of play.

Brogan suggests that David Cameron may eventually offer Nick Clegg electoral reform in the form of the Alternative Vote:

Senior sources speculate that he could eventually offer the Lib Dems a form of electoral reform based on the additional vote system (AV) or even the AV-plus devised by the Lib Dem peer Lord Jenkins -- and rejected by Mr Blair -- more than a decade ago. Both maintain the constituency link that Tories say is essential, and both require voters to express a second preference.

The Alternative Vote, as I've noted before, is not a proportional system and it can produce even more distorted outcomes than first-past-the-post. But because it allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference -- eliminating the need for tactical voting -- it remains a distinct improvement on the status quo.

For the Tories, there may be a self-interest in adopting the system: the party would benefit by receiving second-preference votes from Ukip supporters. As Brogan writes:

For the Tories this would kill off the UK Independence Party vote which cost them an estimated 21 seats last week -- enough to give them a majority. Even far-right Tories have spotted this opportunity.

It isn't quite true to say that Ukip cost the Tories 21 seats on polling day. There are 21 constituencies in which the Ukip vote exceeded the Labour majority, but there's no guarantee that every Ukip supporter would defect to the Tories. Some would abstain or might vote for another minority grouping such as the British National Party or the English Democrats.

But I think it's safe to assume that the withdrawal of Ukip, as demanded by some conservative commentators, would have gifted the Tories at least an extra ten seats.

There's little chance of the Tories achieving a coalition, as opposed to an informal pact, without making some offer beyond that of an "all-party inquiry". This may be it.

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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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