The slogan "You Can't Trust Labour" ultimately buried Neil Kinnock, seen here in 1992. Photo:Getty Images
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In burying Ed Miliband's project, Labour's leadership contenders risk burying themselves

As Labour's leadership contenders race to bury the Miliband project, they risk unearthing Neil Kinnock's defeat. 

"There's no point in running around shouting 'don't trash our record'," one ally of Ed Miliband remarked in 2010, "We got 29 per cent of the vote. It's already been trashed."

Similarly, you might argue, there's no point in trying to work out which parts of the Miliband project are worth saving. It got 31 per cent of the vote. It's already dead.

That's certainly the calculation that appears to be driving the campaigns of Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper. Both Burnham and Cooper will today highlight their own closeness to business. Burnham will warn that Labour "didn't celebrate the spirit of enterprise", telling his audience that the party "got it wrong" on businesses. Kendall, meanwhile, having already delivered her critique of Milibandism, will set out her own stall with a speech in her constituency of Leicester. 

The criticism of this approach being pushed by Miliband's remaining allies is that the polls showed that economic competence and leadership, not Labour's attitude to business or aspiration, is what did for Labour. This is technically true. It seems unlikely, however, that a series of open letters from businessmen of various sizes and the constant attacks on Labour policies even from its own big-money donors didn't have something to do with the party's dire ratings on economic competence and leadership. 

Burnham's speech is good politics in the leadership race, too. He remains the frontrunner and a formidable candidate. But if there is any threat to him it looks most likely to come from Kendall on his right flank, and the more of her best lines he can appropriate, the better for him. It also further weakens the Cooper campaign's "best of both worlds" message - the less of a risky proposition Burnham looks, the less tempting Cooper's middle way is.

But there's a risk to Labour too. In 1992, the Conservatives sunk Neil Kinnock with one message: "You Can't Trust Labour". They argued that the Neil Kinnock of 1992 wasn't that different from the Neil Kinnock who stood up for Michael Foot in 1983 or the Neil Kinnock of 1987. They said he'd changed his mind before, and would change his mind again. Tony Blair - the only Labour leader to take his party into government since 1974 - had the advantage that he'd already tried to modernise the Labour party as an Opposition frontbencher, ending Labour's support for the closed shop and stealing Michael Howard's clothes as shadow home secretary. Kendall, the lowest-ranking of the candidates, can't so easily point to a record of putting her words into action. Cooper and Burnham, meanwhile, are even more implicated in the last five years. It may be that in shucking off Miliband's reputation for being anti-business, they re-acquire Kinnock's for evasiveness.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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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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