Labour expresses anger after Cameron declares: "we're all Thatcherites now"

The party is increasingly concerned by the Tories' attempt to use Thatcher's death for political advantage.

In the nine days since Margaret Thatcher's death, Labour MPs have become increasingly troubled by the right's attempt to present Thatcher as a figure above and beyond party politics, so David Cameron's declaration on the Today programme that "we're all Thatcherites now" has unsurprisingly provoked a hostile response. 

Stewart Wood, Ed Miliband's chief strategist, who sits in the shadow cabinet as minister without portfolio, tweeted simply: "no we're not". Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson may have made much of their embrace of the Iron Lady's nostrums (indeed, Mandelson himself declared in 2002, "we're all Thatcherites now") but Labour's "new generation", which aspires to move the centre to the left as Thatcher moved it to the right, has less interest in consensus. 

With the local elections just two weeks away and Labour's poll lead at its lowest level for months, there is also concern at the largely free rein Cameron has been given to hail the values of a Conservative prime minister. Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant tweeted after the interview: "Really surprised that a party leader was allowed on BBC without a single taxing question during local election campaign."

But others, including some in Labour, will accept Cameron's argument that the rest of the world would think it "extraordinary" if the nation did not formally mark the passing of its first (and only) woman prime minister and the first PM to win three elections under universal suffrage. Equally, however, Cameron would be wise to avoid any further hint of Tory triumphalism today. 

David Cameron speaks to employees of energy company E.ON during a PM Direct event in Coventry. Photograph: Getty Images.

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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