Ed Miliband addresses an audience at The Backstage Centre on May 27, 2014 in Purfleet. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Miliband's half-apology over the Sun photo will please no one

The Labour leader has been left looking like a man trying to have it all ways.

Ed Miliband's decision to pose with the Sun's World Cup edition went down predictably badly among Labour MPs. The backlash was led by those from Merseyside constituencies, who have long boycotted the paper over its reporting of the Hillsborough disaster (into which a public inquest is ongoing). Steve Rotheram, the MP for Liverpool Walton, and others met with Miliband, who was reportedly "left in no doubt whatsoever about what they thought" and responded by saying he was "very, very sorry".

A furious Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, declared: "Like everybody in this city I am really hurt and offended by Ed Milliband’s support for The S*n ‘newspaper’ today. Such clear support for that publication at any time would be wrong but at such a sensitive time is deeply shocking."

A Labour spokesperson then said: "Ed Miliband was supporting England's bid to win the World Cup"

"He totally understands the anger that the people of Merseyside feel towards the Sun over Hillsborough and fully supports the demand for justice for the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy."

After Rotheram tweeted that Miliband himself would make a public statement today, Labour issued an updated response, this time including the word "sorry". A spokesperson said:

Ed Miliband was promoting England's bid to win the World Cup and is proud to do so. But he understands the anger that is felt towards the Sun over Hillsborough by many people in Merseyside and he is sorry to those who feel offended

But while this goes further than the initial response, it's still a classic non-apology apology (of the kind that voters loathe): Miliband isn't sorry for the act itself, but sorry if anyone is offended.

The outcome is likely to please almost no one. Those appalled by what one Labour source called "that fucking photo" won't be placated by the non-apology, while those who initially defended Miliband (on the grounds that the leader of the opposition should seek good relations with the country's most-read paper) will now accuse him of lacking the courage of his convictions.

Myself, I thought the photo was a mistake. Few would have noticed if Miliband hadn't joined Cameron and Clegg in posing with paper and the well-publicised refusal of Mersey postmen to deliver the free edition (which was sent to every UK household) should have alerted him to the political dangers. While it would be unwise and gratuitous for Miliband to cut ties with the Sun entirely, he didn't need to do this. His stated aim might have been to promote "England's bid to win the World Cup" but he ended up looking like a salesman for Rupert Murdoch.

Among other things, the row has highlighted a clear disconnect between Miliband's communications operation and his political operation. I'm told by Labour sources that the latter knew nothing about the photograph before it appeared.

Miliband has often cited his decision to declare war on Murdoch and News Corp during the phone-hacking scandal as evidence of his bold leadership and his willingness to "break the rules". But just at the moment when the phone-hacking jury has retired to consider its verdict, with all that could entail, the Labour leader has been left looking like a man trying to have it all ways and painfully lacking in that most precious commodity in politics: authenticity.

Ed Miliband wants to be a "new" kind of politician, but he looked like a very old one yesterday.

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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