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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for International Trade.

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.