Trouble for the Tories as net migration rises to 176,000

The 23,000 increase in net migration suggests Cameron will struggle to meet his target of reducing it to "tens of thousands" by 2015.

After scepticism that David Cameron would even get close to his goal of reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year by the end of this parliament, the Conservatives have recently hailed their success in cutting it by a third since 2010. But today's figures from the ONS show that, after five successive quarters of decline, the numbers are now moving in the wrong direction.

In the year to December 2012, net migration (the difference between the number of emigrants and immigrants) stood at 176,000, up from 153,000 in the year to September 2012. This was due to a decline in emigration (which fell from 351,000 to 321,000), rather than an increase in immigration (which fell from 566,000 to 497,000), but since Cameron chose to adopt the net migration figure as his metric of success, the trend is politically problematic (if not economically problematic. As I've previously notedmigrants contribute far more in taxes than they receive in benefits and services and the OBR estimates that Britain needs net migration of around 140,000 a year to limit the increase in the national debt to 99 per cent of GDP.)

Worse for the Tories, it will become even harder for them to reach their target once the transitional controls on Romanian and Bulgarian expire on 1 January 2014. While there are likely to be far fewer new arrivals than UKIP and the right-wing press suggest, the Migration Matters Trust estimates that at least 20,000 will move to the UK. With Cameron powerless to restrict EU immigration, owing to the principle of the free movement of labour, the likelihood is that the total number will rise. Ahead of next summer's European elections, that will prove a political gift for Farage and co. 

David Cameron talks to UK Border Agency officials in their control room during a visit to Heathrow terminal 5. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.