David Cameron with Ed Miliband before the state opening of Parliament in 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Tories cut Labour's poll lead to one point

Osborne's populist Budget helps the Conservatives claw back voters from UKIP.

With its laser focus on pensioners (the most likely age group to vote), George Osborne's fifth Budget was his shrewdest to date - and the Tories have been duly rewarded in the polls. Two surveys published tonight - Survation for the Mail on Sunday and YouGov for the Sunday Times - put Labour's lead at just one point.

As intended, the measures announced by Osborne have helped to draw the over-65s away from UKIP and back to the Tories. Survation puts the Conservatives up four points to 34 per cent, with the Farageists down three points to 15 per cent. Labour support has actually risen by one point to 35 per cent, showing that the Tories have benefited by clawing back voters from UKIP and winning over the previously undecided. YouGov does show a fall in the Labour vote, from 39 per cent to 37 per cent, but again it's UKIP that has suffered most, with its support down from 15 per cent to 11 per cent.

The polls are the best for the Tories since an ICM survey last summer put them level with Labour on 36 per cent (the last time they led in a poll was March 2012, just before the omnishambles Budget) and will inevitably lead many to conclude that the Conservatives are on course for victory in 2015. This might well be the case (the political and economic cycles look increasingly well aligned for Osborne) but it's wise to treat the numbers with caution for now.

It's not unheard of for the governing party to enjoy a bounce from the Budget (although it is rarer than most think), especially if it is well received by the media, which fades as normal business is resumed. David Cameron's "veto" of the EU fiscal treaty in December 2011, which saw the Tories briefly regain their lead over Labour, is a good example of how one-off events can skew voting intentions. 

Even so, since we are still 14 months away from the general election, with some voters unlikely to return to the Conservative fold until the last moment (there is little prospect of UKIP polling 15 per cent in 2015), the Tories have cause to be hopeful of victory tonight.

The consolation for Labour is that as long as it retains the support of around a quarter of 2010 Lib Dem supporters (which is not guaranteed), its vote share will remain high enough for it to run the Tories close.

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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