Labour HQ has warned its MPs not to linger on the subject of immigration. Photo: Getty
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A leaked document reveals Labour MPs have been told not to campaign on immigration

"Moving the conversation on".

A leaked document sent by Labour HQ round to some MPs and party activists reveals what we already know: talking about immigration is damaging to Labour's electoral chances.

The strategy document, called "Campaigning against Ukip", revealed by the Telegraphtells MPs that they should avoid campaigning on the subject of immigration and when voters express their concerns about it, they should focus on "moving the conversation on issues where we have clear policy" to other subjects.

MPs are also warned by the party not to send out leaflets about immigration to all voters because it could be an "unhelpful" strategy. The document acknowledges that many voters will cite the topic as a concern, but: "It does not however follow that campaigning on immigration issues and emphasising our policies in our conversations with electors is always the correct response."

This exposure of Labour's stance on immigration is embarrassing for Ed Miliband, on the morning of his big speech on immigration. It appears he's addressing this subject in the same way he approached the deficit last week: a big speech to clear up Labour's policy and to stop critics charging the party with not talking about the issue. However, just as talking about the deficit plays on the Tories' turf, talking about immigration only ever strengthens Ukip. In the document, Labour seems all too aware of this:

While it is clear that UKIP’s campaign is largely concentrated on the issue of immigration, we cannot and should not fight the UKIP threat simply on their terms, not least because we will not win a bidding war on the issue. Although immigration is an important issue for many electors, and is often mentioned on the doorstep, it is often used as a means to express other concerns. Many of these issues, including healthcare, housing, and the delivery of other local services, are among the strongest policy areas for the Labour Party. 

Although it is never helpful for a party to have its tactics out in the open, this stance on addressing immigration concerns is more wise than embarrassing. Not only is it politically useful for Labour to broaden the immigration question out to issues of housing and public services, it is also more truthful to the voter to do so.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.