Cameron will be punished for failure on immigration

New report shows that the coalition will struggle to reduce net migration from 200,000.

The news that immigration is unlikely to fall significantly in 2011 should set alarm bells ringing in Downing Street. An IPPR study published today suggests that net migration will remain around the 200,000 mark, far short of the government's flagship promise to reduce net migration from "the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands".

The report cites several reasons why net migration will remain high: increased economic migration from the EU (which the government cannot legally restrict) as the UK economy continues to outperform those of Spain, Portugal and Greece; increased emigration from Ireland (120,000 Irish nationals are expected to leave the republic in 2010 and 2011); higher immigration from Latvia and Lithuania (the numbers have risen from 25,000 to 40,000 a year); and lower emigration from the UK (30,000 left in the year to March 2010 compared to 130,000 in the year to March 2008).

Along with the EU, immigration is one of the issues that the Tory right wants to see significant progress on before the end of this parliament. The imperative of deficit reduction means that dissent has so far been limited. Cameron has projected himself as a quasi-war leader, even channelling Lord Kitchener in his conference speech ("Your country needs you"). Conservatives, more than most, are susceptible to such rhetoric. But expect patience to wear thin as time goes on. The Tory right, like the Lib Dem left, will begin to demand greater concessions from the coalition.

One should add that the possibility of Conservative failure on immigration represents a big political opportunity for Ukip and the far right. There is always a danger at times of high unemployment that voters will turn to populists and demagogues in search of solutions. On Twitter, the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, correctly points out: "Good report by IPPR on immigration, Cameron's cuts are meaningless. If euro collapses in 2011 expect a flood from Europe we can't control."

Cameron's decision to raise unrealistic expectations on immigration will return to haunt him.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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