Clear Yellow Water

Why today is the best day since May 2010 to be a Lib Dem.

I'd be the first to admit that it's not the best catch phrase ever invented. It may be the worst. But clear yellow water is what the party grass roots has been begging for ever since we entered government. And it's a lot better than the sentiment of "not a cigarette paper between us" that we all so disliked for the first 12 months of coalition government.

And while there have been tentative steps in that direction for a while, today it's been delivered. The Lib Dems find themselves standing on the high ground of tax reform for the lowest paid and middle income families. Today is the best day since May 2010 to be a Lib Dem.

Nick Clegg's speech today is being painted as a gamble. "If Osborne says no, Clegg looks impotent", goes the mantra. That's simply not right. If Osborne says no, the Tories look like right wing zealots hammering the poor while letting their mates in the City get away with millions in bonuses. Go on George, I dare you...

However, I wonder who has the real political problem today?

It is something of a paradox that we have ended up differentiating ourselves from the Tories by advocating tax cuts that they are not keen on. The irony of a Conservative chancellor not acquiescing to a request to cut taxes will not be lost on the electorate.

But surely more ironic is the lengths Labour have gone to in the last ten days to demonstrate fiscal prudence -- the iron fist keeping the cuts, freezing the pay for the public sector -- only to see the Lib Dems step into the void they have left and champion the poor. Oh Mr Miliband, where to now? Are you going to say these tax cuts would be too far and too fast?

Before you know it we'll be ditching the second worst political catch phrase ever invented ("Alarm Clock Britain" -- give it up, Nick) and start talking about the squeezed middle...

While the Tories now have a short term political quandary to solve, it's Labour who find themselves standing in a great pool of clear yellow water.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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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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