Revealed: what the Lib Dems really said to Labour

And why David Laws doesn't want you to know.

Here, for the first time, is the list of demands submitted by the Liberal Democrats during their coalition talks with Labour. In his forthcoming book, 22 Days in May, it is understood that David Laws publishes a selection of documents from the negotiations, including papers tabled by both the Conservatives and Labour. But the former Lib Dem cabinet minister does not include the papers tabled by his own side. And with good reason.

The document, titled Recovery and Renewal: A headline programme for a new government, and tabled on 10 May, reveals that the Lib Dems never had any intention of sticking to their election pledge to delay spending cuts until next year. A section on "the economic recovery and deficit reduction", calls for "further and faster action on the deficit", including "some in year cuts". A senior Labour figure close to the negotiations, described the revelations as "embarrassing" for Laws. The source rejected claims by Laws that a "truculent trio" of Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Harriet Harman wrecked any chance of a progressive coalition, and says that a deal was possible on every issue apart from the pace of deficit reduction.

Read the full document here

In addition, the document reveals that even at this late stage (Monday 10 May) the Lib Dems were still demanding the introduction of the Alternative Vote without a referendum. A significant number of Conservative MPs believe that, in order to secure an improved offer from the Tories, Clegg decieved Cameron into believing that Labour had promised to meet this demand. But Labour figures have since confirmed that this was never the case.

As Jason Cowley writes in tomorrow's issue, the document also reminds us how much the Lib Dems have compromised for power. Nick Clegg and the other Lib Dem negotiators called for a "a commitment not to raise the cap on tuition fees" (a watered-down version of their manifesto pledge to phase out tuition fees over six years), a cut in the number of government ministers, a four year fixed-term parliament and "a commitment to no public subsidy for nuclear power stations". All of these pledges have since been broken by the government.

What is now clear is that Clegg, Laws and Danny Alexander never had any intention of forming a coalition with the Labour. As Jason writes: "[T]he Lib Dems' personal dislike of Gordon Brown (the old saying that you should be good to people on your way up as they will be kind to you in return on your way down was never more applicable than to the former Prime Minister in his hour of urgent need) and the leadership's "Orange Book" neoliberal instincts, and desire to move the party away from its entrenched social liberalism, made a deal with the Conservatives inevitable from the moment the election returned a hung parliament."

The Lib Dem papers do much to improve our understanding of why.

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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