Business Secretary Vince Cable speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cable's warning to the Tories: lower immigration will harm deficit reduction

The Business Secretary tries to appeal to fiscal conservatives by highlighting that reduced EU migration will lead to "a much slower reduction in the public debt".

With the exception of the EU, there is no issue that the coalition parties are more publicly divided over than Europe. While the Tories have pledged to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands" a year by the end of the parliament (it rose from 154,000 to 212,000 in the most recent period), this is not, as the Lib Dems have emphasised, a government target. As a result, ministers from the two parties are able to adopt diametrically opposed positions on the subject. 

In his first speech as immigration minister, Conservative James Brokenshire will declare at Demos today that "For too long, the benefits of immigration went to employers who wanted an easy supply of cheap labour, or to the wealthy metropolitan elite who wanted cheap tradesmen and services – but not to the ordinary, hard-working people of this country". This despite the supressed government report revealed by Newsnight showing that the number of UK workers unemployed as a consequence of immigration is well below the figure used by ministers of 23 for every 100 additional migrants. In a rebuke to Cable, Brokenshire will add: "In the past year net migration from the EU has doubled, and this figure is – frankly – just too high. Some have tried to claim that this rapid increase is somehow 'good' for the country. Well, just like the Home Secretary, I disagree." He will also claim: "Uncontrolled mass immigration can force wages down and house prices up and put pressure on social cohesion and public services. And let me be clear – it can also cause displacement in the labour market."

But as luck would have it, Cable will deliver his own speech on the subject at Mansion House tonight, giving him the chance to deliver a rapid-fire rebuttal. It's the kind of stage-managed row that both parties believe will benefit them. The Tories get to remind a sceptical public that they are pushing for an even tougher line on immigration, while the Lib Dems get to remind their liberal target audience (the 25 per cent of the electorate who would consider voting for them) that they are fighting back against Conservative dogma. 

Cable will say: "We just have to stop treating people coming to work here as if they are a problem. We need to kill off all the scare stories" and will rightly warn that "Bear down on immigrants, and you lose some of the most dynamic, innovative and imaginative workers in your economy". It is certainly odd that those who are so supportive of the free movement of capital are so opposed to the free movement of labour, but perhaps a more promising line of argument is his warning that reduced immigration will hinder deficit reduction. He will point out that a "marked reduction" in newcomers from the EU will lead to "an increase in the budget deficit and a much slower reduction in the public debt". 

Since immigrants are net contributors to the economy, paying far more in taxes than they receive in benefits and service (they are younger and more economically active than the population in general), their removal increases fiscal pressures on the government. As the Office for Budget Responsibility has shown, we will need more, not fewer migrants, if we are to cope with the challenge of an ageing population and the resultant rise in the national debt. Should Britain maintain net migration of around 140,000 a year (a level significantly higher than the government's target of 'tens of thousands'), debt will rise to 99 per cent of GDP by 2062-63. But should it reduce net migration to zero, debt will surge to 174 per cent. As the OBR concluded, "[There is] clear evidence that, since migrants tend to be more concentrated in the working-age group relatively to the rest of the population, immigration has a positive effect on the public sector’s debt…higher levels of net inward migration are projected to reduce public sector net debt as a share of GDP over the long term relative to the levels it would otherwise reach."

One might expect David Cameron and other fiscal conservatives to act on such advice but, as so often in recent times, the PM is determined to put politics before policy. The irony is that by exacerbating, rather than easing, public fears over immigration (thus handing a propaganda victory to UKIP), he isn't even succeeding in these debased terms. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood