Labour's economic challenge

Ed Miliband needs to make sure his colleagues understand the need for radical change.

The deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, appeared on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show this morning. Harman was asked by Marr about the new kind of economy envisaged by Ed Miliband in his speech to Labour conference last month. Her rather unconvincing answers tended to confirm the analysis of the chief economist of the IPPR Tony Dolphin, who argued here recently that it's much harder to articulate a new economic paradigm than it is simply to assert that things need to change.

Dolphin wrote that "Distinguishing between 'predators' and 'producers' was an unnecessary hostage to fortune". Questions about good and bad businesses drown out, Dolphin went on, the "arguments of thinkers such as Will Hutton, Anatole Kaletsky and William Baumol over different models of capitalism". Marr duly asked whether Top Shop boss Sir Philip Green was a predator or a producer. Harman replied somewhat uneasily that "it's not about individuals", rather confirming Dolphin's fears.

Miliband and Labour's main problem, according to Dolphin, is that "there is no new well-developed economic model - comparable to monetarism in the 1970s - sitting on the shelf waiting for him to pick it up and champion it. He therefore faces a tough decision. Does he want to tinker at the edges with the existing model - a bit more banking regulation here, an employee representative on a company board there? ... Or is he prepared to make the case for more radical change and to champion those independent voices in economics that are not heard enough? "

When Marr invited her to elaborate on Labour's vision of a new economy, Harman did make it sound as if all Labour has in mind is to tighten up the regulatory framework governing financial services. But I suspect Miliband doesn't want to take to the easier of the two options Dolphin described and does want to "make the case for radical change". If that's true, then he needs to make sure his colleagues, Harriet Harman included, understand just what he has in mind.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture 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.