MPs vote to keep ban on prisoners voting

234 MPs vote to keep the ban, with just 22 opposed.

As expected, MPs have voted to keep the ban on prisoners voting by 234 votes to 22 – a majority of 212. The vote puts parliament on a collision course with the European Court of Human Rights, whose rulings Britain is bound by treaty to accept. Ministers appear to hope that the resounding vote will encourage the ECHR to reverse its judgment in favour of prisoner voting.

David Cameron, who memorably declared that the thought of giving prisoners the vote made him "physically ill", has simply said that the government will "sort this out one way or the other". Yet the Conservative leader faces two equally unpalatable choices. If he complies with the ECHR ruling, he will find himself at odds with his increasingly restive backbenchers. If he doesn't, the government could be forced to pay out large amounts in compensation to inmates.

In the meantime, here is the statement released by the shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, whom Mehdi has profiled in this week's magazine.

He said:

We have been very clear that it is not Labour policy to give prisoners the vote.

Despite several attempts to glean information from the Tory-led government by me, and the lively debate in the House today, they have yet to explain how they intend to satisfy the European Court of Human Rights ruling.

The government must, as a matter of urgency, bring forward its draft legislation so parliament and the public are clear about where it stands on this important issue.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.