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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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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