Nigel Farage during the Rochester by-election, which Tory defector Mark Reckless won for Ukip. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Farage struggling and Clegg in danger of losing seat, Ashcroft poll shows

Ukip are five points behind the Tories in Thanet South with the Lib Dems just three points ahead of Labour in Sheffield Hallam. 

Of all the constituency polls Lord Ashcroft has published in recent months (May2015 has collected them all here), today's is the most fascinating. In addition to polling 11 Lib Dem-Tory marginals, Ashcroft looked at the state of play in three noteworthy seats: Ed Miliband's Doncaster North, Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam and Nigel Farage's target of Thanet South. 

He found Miliband 12 points ahead in his seat (compared to 26 in 2010) with Ukip in second on 28 per cent and the Tories in third on 23 per cent. As Farage's party have been quick to point out, this means that they could defeat the Labour leader if Conservative supporters vote tactically for them. Cameron is fond of warning "Vote Farage, get Miliband" but in Doncaster at least, Ukip can warn "Vote Tory, get Miliband". 

But while the Labour leader has little reason to fear losing his seat (12 points is a comfortable lead), the same cannot be said of Clegg. Ashcroft's poll found him just three points ahead of Labour in Sheffield, a margin too close for comfort. Clegg's seat, in which he had a lead of 19,096 over Miliband's party in 2010, is not one of the 106 seats targeted by the opposition at the election, but with the race this tight, plenty of MPs will be offering their help. Tom Watson tweeted: "Clearing my diary and heading to Sheffield". Defeating Clegg in Sheffield would, after all, be the easiest way for Labour to avoid having to mark with him in the likely event of another hung parliament. This said, given that he's ahead even before any swing-back effect, Clegg will almost certainly retain his seat. 

Unusually, Ashcroft also has some grim news for Ukip. The party is five points behind the Tories in Thanet South (34-29), where Farage is standing, with Labour just three behind. The Ukip leader is likely to devote more attention to the seat next year (which he has been charged with neglecting) but that he's behind at this stage, before any late swing-back, suggests he may fail to join Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless on the Commons' benches. 

More broadly, the poll shows the Lib Dem vote holding up well against the Tories, with the Conservatives on course to win just two of the 11 seats surveyed. As Harry recently noted on May 2015, and as I've written before, this suggests that existing Lib Dem MPs are benefiting from an incumbency effect and that Labour are likely to gain most from the collapse of the party's national vote. Given that the Tories need to make significant gains from the Lib Dems (they are in second place in 37 of the party's 56 seats) to compensate for their likely losses to Labour, it is Ed Miliband who has most reason to smile today. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

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.

0800 7318496