Some Labour politicians playing football, possibly contemplating a tax to exploit the Premier League's wealth in this brief break in play. Photo: Getty
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Labour plans football tax to boost grassroots sport

Labour is to propose new taxes on the Premier League and sports betting firms to boost sport at the grassroots level.

As parliament's summer recess begins this week, it's clear the Labour party is adamant not to disappear like it did during its significantly quiet summer last year. It is difficult for the opposition to make many headlines – or at least positive ones – during the silly season, but it looks like Ed Miliband and his top team have a number of proposals up their sleeve they’ve saved for the summer months.

An example of this is the plan to be announced today for new taxes on the Premier League and sports betting firms. The aim is to boost grassroots football and other sports at that level.

Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman will be announcing these proposals, as well as a call to reintroduce two hours of PE weekly for all primary school children, a policy scrapped by the coalition.

Although the party is bound to face criticism for being “same old Labour”, introducing more taxes and dressing them up as policies, but this matters little because that criticism is likely to be levelled by those who wouldn’t be voting Labour anyway.

The populist angle of these proposals is more significant. Tapping the wealth of the Premier League and using the proceeds – the Times reports it could raise £275m from the tax – for developing grassroots football will be popular among ordinary sports fans, who have been hit by rising ticket prices for Premier League games.

This would go alongside the plan for a levy on sports betting firms’ gross profits in order to fund community sports facilities and raising money to help support people to fight gambling addictions. This type of levy reflects one that already exists in horseracing, which raised £82m this year.

So the Conservatives’ dismissal of these plans as a “short-term gimmick” doesn’t really hold water. Labour has clearly figured out that there is serious money to be made here, and redistributed among communities and individuals, as well as successful precedents already in place.

It is also a shrewd move towards encouraging exercise among a population that we repeatedly hear is becoming more obese and more sedentary. Rather than introducing “sin taxes”, say on fizzy drinks or fast food, it is a positive method of promoting a healthier lifestyle. So even if Labour’s detractors will tut at the idea of a new tax, it can’t be accused of nannying. And that’s more than you can say for the coalition, which has been prevaricating embarrassingly over plain-packaging for cigarettes and minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.