Will Cameron soon be the leader under pressure?

As Labour opens up an 8-point lead over the Tories, the narrative could soon change.

It may just be one poll, but this morning's ComRes/Independent survey putting Labour 8 points ahead of the Conservatives is a big boost for Ed Miliband. The poll puts Labour up 2 points to 42 per cent, with the Tories down 2 points to 34 per cent and the Lib Dems unchanged on 12 per cent.

The 8-point lead is the largest Labour has recorded since 2007 and the Tories haven't been as low as 34 per cent since May.

While support for the Lib Dems has plummeted since the general election (to as little as 7 per cent), support for the Tories has remained surprisingly robust, until now. With Labour also likely to triumph in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election on Thursday, Miliband will win some of the breathing space he needs.

Should the Conservatives either outperform or underperform expectations, Cameron will come under pressure. If the Tories do worse than expected in the by-election, he will be attacked for giving the Lib Dems a virtual free ride. If they do better than expected, he will be attacked for missing out on a seat the Tories could have won (they were just 2,413 votes behind Labour at the general election).

Yesterday I suggested that a little bit of populism on bankers' bonuses would do Ed Miliband no harm. Today we learn that the Conservatives fear as much. The Telegraph's Benedict Brogan writes:

Tory high command wories that if it goes soft on the banks the numbers will get worse. Those who have pressed the coalition and specifically the Chancellor to speak out against banker-bashing are told each time that the coalition has to keep public attitudes in mind. Mr Osborne believes voters loathe the banks and blame them for the financial crisis.

Despite his status as one of the least electorally successful Tory prime ministers in history, Cameron has come under little pressure since the election. Instead, it is Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband who have attracted the greatest media criticism. But if, as seems likely, the Conservatives enter a period of sustained unpopularity, the narrative could soon change.

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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