Labour’s revealing response to Cameron’s speech

The party chose to attack the Prime Minister’s immigration speech from the right, rather than the le

Vince Cable's extraordinary attack on David Cameron's immigration speech means that Labour's response has received little attention. But the party's decision to attack the PM from the right, rather than from the left, is highly significant.

Unlike Cable, Labour chose not to accuse Cameron of pandering to extremists. Instead, it criticised him for talking tough but acting soft. The party pointed out that the coalition's cap applies to only 20 per cent of non-EU migrants and that Cameron is cutting the UK Border Agency by over 5,000 staff.

It also noted that the Conservative pledge to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands a year" had been downgraded to an aim or an aspiration (as Cable rightly pointed out this morning, it was not included in the Coalition Agreement). In other words, as far as Labour is concerned, the problem is that Cameron hasn't been tough enough.

Many shadow cabinet ministers now prefer to attack the coalition on practical rather than ideological grounds.Yvette Cooper, for instance, said today:

Whether it is immigration, the NHS or student fees, once again we are getting grandstanding from the Prime Minister to hide the chaos within the government. David Cameron tried desperately to change the agenda today but it has completely backfired.

Politically speaking, it's a smart approach. Voters might be divided on the cuts, but both the left and the right will nod in agreement when Ed Miliband accuses the coalition of serial incompetence. Miliband's call for Cameron to "get a grip" is one that the Tories used to devastating effect against Gordon Brown. It's likely to prove a winning strategy for Labour as well.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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

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