Nick Clegg arrives at the BBC studios ahead of his second debate with Nigel Farage over EU membership on April 02, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour demands investigation into Clegg's special adviser Ryan Coetzee

Party writes to Jeremy Heywood asking whether Coetzee's involvement in Lib Dem election strategy has breached the special advisers' code of conduct.

After previously gunning for the Conservatives' election campaign chief Lynton Crosby over his links to the tobacco industry, Labour has found a new target in the form of Nick Clegg's director of strategy Ryan Coetzee. The former South African MP, who took up the post in September 2012, is often compared with Crosby but unlike him is paid entirely from the public purse (earning £110,000 a year). It is this that Labour has taken issue with, noting his involvement in Liberal Democrat election strategy and private polling for the party. The special advisers' code of conduct states that "special advisers should not use official resources for party political activity".

Clegg said at his monthly press conference yesterday: "We’ve done it by the book and it’s not unusual for politicians in government to get support on what are the main concerns of the British public and how can we address them in government. That’s exactly what we’re doing."

A Lib Dem spokesman said: "A key part of his role as director of strategy is to ensure that all government messaging strictly reflects the Lib Dems and Lib Dem priorities. He is a special adviser so he is paid out of public funds. The salaries are all transparent and published on the internet."

But those answers haven't satisfied Labour with MP Sheila Gilmore writing to cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood demanding that he investigate whether the code of conduct may have been broken. Here's her letter in full.

Dear Sir Jeremy,

 

Following reports that Mr Ryan Coetzee, Special Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister, is employed to work on the Liberal Democrats’ election planning and has been conducting political polling on their behalf, I am writing to express the concern that his actions may be in breach of the Special Advisers Code of Conduct, and to ask you to investigate.

 

As you will know, the Special Advisers’ Code of Conduct states:

 

‘Special advisers should not use official resources for party political activity. They are employed to serve the objectives of the Government and the Department in which they work. It is this which justifies their being paid from public funds and being able to use public resources, and explains why their participation in party politics is carefully limited…They should avoid anything which might reasonably lead to the criticism that people paid from public funds are being used for party political purposes.’

 

The Code of Conduct for Special Advisers, Cabinet Office, 2010, p.3

 

If Mr Coetzee is working on issues concerning the Liberal Democrats’ election strategy rather than the objectives of the Cabinet Office, where he is employed on the public payroll, this would appear a breach of the code.

 

In recognition of the importance of upholding public trust in political appointments, I hope that you will be able to confirm beyond all doubt that the code has not been broken and will in particular be able to answer the following questions:

 

-          Could you specify what political activity has been undertaken by Mr Coetzee on behalf of the Liberal Democrats during his time employed as Special Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister, and in each instance what steps were taken to ensure the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers was followed?

 

-          What polling exercises has Mr Coetzee conducted in his capacity as Special Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister to which public funds were committed?

 

-          How many meetings has Mr Coetzee attended at Liberal Democrat Offices in Great George St during his period employed in his capacity as Special Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister, at what times and dates, and what steps have been taken to ensure the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers has been followed?

 

It would rightly be extremely concerning if the Liberal Democrats were exploiting public resources and the important role played by Special Advisers to further party political interests rather than government objectives.

 

I look forward to your response.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

Sheila Gilmore

 

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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