Labour set for easy win in Feltham byelection

Poll puts Labour 22 points ahead but there is bad news for Ken.

Ed Miliband's unbroken run of byelection victories (there have been four to date) looks set to continue. A poll by Michael Ashcroft for ConservativeHome puts Labour 22 points ahead of the second-placed Tories in Feltham and Heston with a 52 per cent share of the vote. This represents a six-point swing from the Tories to Labour since the general election, solid but nothing spectacular. As Ashcroft notes, in a by-election - "an easy opportunity for a cost-free anti-government protest vote" - Labour might have been expecting to do better.

More worryingly for Labour, the poll shows that Ken is still struggling against Boris. Even in what is a safe Labour seat, Boris, who is backed by 25 per cent of Labour voters and 33 per cent of Lib Dems, is a point ahead of Ken. This represents a significant drop in support for Livingstone, who outperformed Labour in 2000 (by seven points), 2004 (by eight points) and 2008 (by three points). The "Ken bonus" has turned into a "Ken deficit" of eight points. Until he wins over Boris's Labour supporters, there is little hope of him retaking City Hall.

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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