David Cameron U-turns on personal photographers

"Vanity" appointments will no longer be paid with public money, following outcry.

David Cameron has performed a U-turn by removing his personal photographer and videographer from the public payroll.

According to the Evening Standard, Andrew Parsons and Nicky Woodhouse will now be paid their £35,000 salaries from Conservative Party funds rather than the public purse, with immediate effect. They will also leave their desks at the Cabinet Office and be transferred to CCHQ in Millbank.

In opposition, Parsons was Cameron's personal photographer, and controlled media images of him. Woodhouse made the WebCameron videos. Both were supposedly hired by Whitehall to work across government and for all ministers.

However, the so-called vanity appointments -- in addition to the Camerons' two stylists, also employed as civil servants -- rankled at a time when the government is planning 500,000 public sector job cuts.

Reportedly, the Prime Minister has conceded that the appointments "sent the wrong signal", given the timing. He will be hoping that he has acted quickly enough to nip criticism in the bud; serious damage was done to his image several years ago by the revelation that a car carrying his papers was driving behind his bike as he cycled to work.

However, it is also worth remembering that these two are not the only slightly dubious civil service appointments -- Anna-Maren Ashford and Isabel Spearman remain on the public payroll. It was astute for Cameron to act on criticism, but this story could still rumble on.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for 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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