How Umunna and Reeves are leading the charge of the 2010 intake

An interesting dynamic to watch is how these two ambitious newbies get on with Ed Balls.

Ed Miliband has put his shadow cabinet house in order. It isn't a full Grand Designs-style rebuild, more a fresh lick of paint and some urgent structural repairs. (For a start he had two big holes to fill after John Denham and John Healey resigned last night.)

As generally predicted, members of the 2010 intake have been aggressively promoted -- Rachel Reeves, who covered pensions before, has shown herself capable of being an effective, attacking opposition player even with a highly technical brief and has been rewarded with the job of Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Chuka Umunna was tipped for big things even before he was officially selected as an election candidate in Streatham last year. Now he gets a chance at the top table as shadow business secretary. He's a good media performer and will give the portfolio a higher profile.

Expect more from Labour on small businesses, the junior business brief Umunna had until today. Part of the strategy (although you'd never have guessed it) is to woo smaller enterprises, the self-employed etc over as part of Miliband's assault on "vested interests". The Labour leader wants to be on the side of "the little guy" against giant corporate monopolies and bankers. If he pulls it off it would be an audacious political land grab -- small business is traditional Tory terrain.

An interesting dynamic to watch will be how Reeves and Umunna, two ambitious newbies with things to say about the economy, get along with Ed Balls. He is Reeves's boss on the Treasury team now, of course. But not Chuka's...

The big surprise is Stephen Twigg's move to Education. He is part of the 2010 intake, although he was first elected to parliament in 1997, defeating a famously stunned Michael Portillo in Enfield and Southgate. It was a dramatic moment that for many symbolised the scale of the Tory rout. Twigg is a Blairite by reputation and the move probably reflects Labour's recognition of the need for a more sophisticated critique of Michael Gove's school reforms -- themselves conceived as an extension of Blair's education agenda -- than Andy Burnham had managed.

Burnham moves to health. Last night I wrote on the blog that this was rumoured, but I questioned whether he would be any more effective against Lansley than he was against Gove. I still have my doubts.

Labour has a bigger problem when it comes to the health and education briefs, which is that the party's ideological position on the use of markets, private sector providers and consumer choice in the public sector is unclear. If Burnham couldn't express a view on that question with regard to schools, what makes anyone think he'll express one clearly over hospitals?

And without giving the impresion that he's denouncing government policy without any prospect of an alternative reform agenda. But then, I suppose, just attacking government policy on the NHS is an easier hit -- voters are primed to fear the effects of Tory policy on hospitals, less so with schools.

Liz Kendall, who I mentioned as a rising star with a command of the health portfolio, will be attending shadow cabinet as minister for care and older people. All in all, it looks like a sensible re-jig, not too cautious but not a drastic long-knife frenzy either.

One appointment, sure to attract much notice, is the appointment of Tom Watson, scourge of Murdoch, to the role of deputy party chair and campaign coordinator. He has always been a formidable political attack dog and Miliband is clearly hoping he will get his teeth into more than just News International. But before he was hailed as a hero for his role in hackgate, Watson had a reputation as a ruthless internal party schemer. There will be plenty of people warning Ed to keep him on a tight leash.

The full list of new shadow cabinet appointments is here.

 

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

Getty
Show Hide image

A small dose of facts could transform Britain's immigration debate

While "myth-busting" doesn't always work, there is an appetite for a better informed conversation than the one we're having now. 

For some time opinion polls have shown that the public sees immigration as one of the most important issues facing Britain. At the same time, public understanding of the economic and social impacts of immigration is poor and strongly influenced by the media: people consistently over-estimate the proportion of the population born outside the UK and know little about policy measures such as the cap on skilled non-EU migration. The public gets it wrong on other issues too - on teenage pregnancy, the Muslim population of the UK and benefit fraud to name just three. However, in the case of immigration, the strength of public opinion has led governments and political parties to reformulate policies and rules. Theresa May said she was cracking down on “health tourists” not because of any evidence they exist but because of public “feeling”. Immigration was of course a key factor in David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on the UK’s membership with the EU and has been central to his current renegotiations.  

Do immigration facts always make us more stubborn and confused?

The question of how to both improve public understanding and raise the low quality of the immigration debate has been exercising the minds of those with a policy and research interest in the issue. Could the use of facts address misconceptions, improve the abysmally low quality of the debate and bring evidence to policy making? The respected think tank British Future rightly warns of the dangers associated with excessive reliance on statistical and economic evidence. Their own research finds that it leaves people hardened and confused. Where does that leave those of us who believe in informed debate and evidence based policy? Can a more limited use of facts help improve understandings and raise the quality of the debate?

My colleagues Jonathan Portes and Nathan Hudson-Sharp and I set out to look at whether attitudes towards immigration can be influenced by evidence, presented in a simple and straightforward way. We scripted a short video animation in a cartoon format conveying some statistics and simple messages taken from research findings on the economic and social impacts of immigration.

Targeted at a wide audience, we framed the video within a ‘cost-benefit’ narrative, showing the economic benefits through migrants’ skills and taxes and the (limited) impact on services. A pilot was shown to focus groups attended separately by the general public, school pupils studying ‘A’ level economics and employers.

Some statistics are useful

To some extent our findings confirm that the public is not very interested in big statistics, such as the number of migrants in the UK. But our respondents did find some statistics useful. These included rates of benefit claims among migrants, effects on wages, effects on jobs and the economic contribution of migrants through taxes. They also wanted more information from which to answer their own questions about immigration. These related to a number of current narratives around selective migration versus free movement, ‘welfare tourism’ and the idea that our services are under strain.

Our research suggests that statistics can play a useful role in the immigration debate when linked closely to specific issues that are of direct concern to the public. There is a role for careful and accurate explanation of the evidence, and indeed there is considerable demand for this among people who are interested in immigration but do not have strong preconceptions. At the same time, there was a clear message from the focus groups that statistics should be kept simple. Participants also wanted to be sure that the statistics they were given were from credible and unbiased sources.

The public is ready for a more sophisticated public debate on immigration

The appetite for facts and interest in having an informed debate was clear, but can views be changed through fact-based evidence? We found that when situated within a facts-based discussion, our participants questioned some common misconceptions about the impact of immigration on jobs, pay and services. Participants saw the ‘costs and benefits’ narrative of the video as meaningful, responding particularly to the message that immigrants contribute to their costs through paying taxes. They also talked of a range of other economic, social and cultural contributions. But they also felt that those impacts were not the full story. They were also concerned about the perceived impact of immigration on communities, where issues become more complex, subjective and intangible for statistics to be used in a meaningful way.

Opinion poll findings are often taken as proof that the public cannot have a sensible discussion on immigration and the debate is frequently described as ‘toxic’. But our research suggests that behind headline figures showing concern for its scale there may be both a more nuanced set of views and a real appetite for informed discussion. A small dose of statistics might just help to detoxify the debate. With immigration a deciding factor in how people cast their vote in the forthcoming referendum there can be no better time to try.