Boles's call for a National Liberal Party is a plan to lure Lib Dem defectors

The revival of the Tory-aligned National Liberal Party would offer a path into the Conservatives for Jeremy Browne and other right-leaning Lib Dems.

The Staggers reported earlier on Tory MP Nick Boles's call for the revival of the National Liberal Party, which existed as a Conservative affiliate until 1968. The proposed alliance would mirror the relationship between Labour and the Co-operative Party. While Boles is claiming that this is a way of broadening support for the Tories in the country as a whole, and in three-way Lib Dem marginals in particular, I wonder if there's another thought in his head. He said in his speech to Bright Blue: "Existing MPs, councillors, candidates and party members of liberal views would be encouraged to join. And we could use it to recruit new supporters who might initially balk at the idea of calling themselves Conservative." 
 
Now, I wonder if, when he says "existing MPs", he means existing Tories, or in fact whether he is talking to disgruntled Lib Dems on the right of the party who have already been asked the question - and rejected the chance to join the Tories in their current form. One obvious candidate might be (if you believe the rumours from a few weeks back) Jeremy Browne.
 
I suspect this is the start of a sustained attack by the Tories on the Lib Dems, timed just as the differentiation strategy really takes hold. We've already alienated many of our former supporters on the left. Now, as we spin left to try and attract them back, we alienate those on the right who have stayed loyal to date. I always said it was a wrong-headed strategy. We're beginning to see why.
 
Anyway, could someone find out if Jeremy Browne is having coffee with Nick Boles in the next few days? I sense a plot afoot...
 
Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference
Liberal Democrat MP and former Home Office minister Jeremy Browne, who the Conservatives have urged to defect. Photograph: Getty Images.

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

Getty
Show Hide image

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.

0800 7318496