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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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

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