David Cameron speaks to supporters during the launch of the Welsh Conservative manifesto on April 17, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Tetchy Cameron dials up SNP attack by warning English voters would lose out

The PM suggested that a Labour government reliant on nationalist support would be forced to cancel infrastructure projects outside of Scotland. 

Since the election campaign began, David Cameron has been accused of lacking passion and of being "too posh to push". His manner on today's Andrew Marr show seemed like a conscious attempt to rebut this charge. "I'm angry and animated!" he declared at one point, lest anyone fail to notice. At moments, he rather too closely resembled an under-pressure chief executive or football manager facing the sack (repeatedly interrupting his interlocutor). But Cameron clearly believes that raising the rhetorical stakes is his best means of retaining power. 

The opening of the interview saw him dramatically dial up the SNP attack, warning of the "frightening prospect" of a party that "wouldn't care about what happenened in the rest of the country" holding sway over a Labour government. In an attempt to make the danger less abstract, he suggested that an administration reliant on nationalist support would be forced to cancel infrastructure projects in England, referring to "People thinking in their own constituencies 'Is that bypass going to be built? Will my hospital get the money it needs?'"

But while excoriating Miliband for refusing to rule out a loose arrangement with the SNP (though the Labour leader is more likely, as I wrote on Friday, to simply call their bluff), Cameron took an equally ambiguous stance towards Ukip. Asked to rule out a deal with Nigel Farage, he merely replied: "We're not planning to do deals with anybody". Since polls show that voters are more concerned by Ukip holding influence in a hung parliament than the SNP (42 per cent against 27 per cent in a recent MORI poll), this is a weakness Labour should repeatedly exploit. 

With Cameron currently on course to lose office, the Tories have resolved that their best hope of persuading wavering voters is to repeatedly play the SNP card - in an ever more apocalyptic manner. In particular, they hope that this will win over two key groups: Ukip defectors and southern Lib Dems. Whether or not the fear factor works, it is a disreputable campaign that only further undermines the long-term future of the Union. (As Marr observed at one point, Cameron sounded like an "English nationalist".) The Tories may yet retain power but they have already lost honour. 

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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