Gillian Duffy backs David Miliband

Woman at the centre of Gordon’s Brown’s “Bigotgate” blunder supports Miliband to succeed him as Labo

Like Gordon Brown before him, David Miliband had tea with Gillian Duffy this weekend. During the May general election campaign, the 65-year-old Rochdale resident came to epitomise the perception that Brown was out of touch with ordinary people. Conversely, Miliband used his visit to Mrs Duffy to try to demonstrate that he is the "grass-roots candidate" for the Labour leadership, supported by ordinary Britons.

In an interview with the Daily Mirror, Duffy said:

He's a really nice man and obviously very intelligent but also down-to-earth. I think he would be a great prime minister. I felt David really listened to my points of view and shared my concerns on the issues that matter to working people.

Miliband used the meeting to continue to push the line that he represents ordinary people, saying:

We need to win the confidence of many more voters like Mrs Duffy if we are to be serious about winning the next election. This new government is not on the side of people like Gillian Duffy. I am determined the Labour Party will be.

Though a conveniently media-grabbing stunt, the meeting itself is meaningless in terms of the actual contest. However, it is interesting for the questions that it raises about the kinds of voting patterns we can expect in September.

Duffy is a member of the Unite union, and will be voting on a Unite ballot. Unite came out in favour of Ed Miliband this weekend, but the endorsement carries no obligation for the union's members to vote a certain way. Duffy is living proof that while endorsements might be useful indicators of members' intentions, they are not by any means to be considered absolute (rendering the rumours that Ed Balls is going to drop out following his failure to secure Unite's endorsement rather less plausible).

Similarly, David Miliband's campaign have been very keen to highlight that their candidate is ahead on constituency party nominations, with 158 to his brother's 146. But again, each member of each party still has an individual vote, and as the membership of each party varies hugely, this isn't a reliable predictor of actual votes, either.

In addition, as Mark Ferguson points out on LabourList, David Miliband's team seems keen to impress upon us that his endorsements from local councillors confirm his status as a "grass-roots candidate". In fact, these councillors are elected officials and, as such, are just as much part of the Labour establishment as MPs are.

Miliband may still experience a surge of support from the true grass roots of the party, but it isn't apparent yet. Tea with Gillian Duffy and boasting of his endorsements is not going to convince anyone otherwise.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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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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