Osborne to borrow more than Labour was projected to

Chancellor forecast to borrow £19bn more than the Brown government was expected to.

George Osborne rattled through the OBR's borrowing forecasts in his autumn statement - and with good reason. They show that, as a result of lower growth and higher unemployment, he will be forced to borrow £158bn more than forecast a year ago. Even more strikingly, Osborne is now set to borrow £19bn more than Labour was projected to (see Table 4.5 on p. 38 of the OBR's June 2010 release). With glorious irony, the national debt will now be higher under the coalition (78 per cent of GDP in 2014-15) than it would have been under Labour (74 per cent of GDP).

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Labour's smart line of attack is that while Osborne is borrowing to meet the cost of unemployment, they would have borrowed to fund growth.

It's true that external factors may well have forced a Labour chancellor to borrow more than forecast but here's the question Osborne and his allies will have to answer: why aren't the bond markets panicking? They claimed that borrowing a billion more than planned would take Britain to the "brink of bankruptcy". But the fact that Osborne is set to borrow a huge £158bn more than forecast in November 2010 shows this up as the myth it always was.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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