Labour MP Jamie Reed, pictured earlier today. Photo: Getty Images
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A merger between Labour and the Liberal Democrats could never work, and here's why

Jamie Reed's proposal that Labour merge with the Liberal Democrats is simply a ruse so Labour can finish what they tried to do at the election: wipe out the Liberal Democrats.

There have been a few articles recently mooting the merger of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, including this one published by the Labour MP Jamie Reed. It is written as an act of kindness to both parties, somehow uniting of the mythical forces of progressivism for the greater good. Lib Dems should not be taken in by this, Reed is a wolf in sheep’s clothing asking us into the flock. The differences between our two parties are irreconcilable, and it would signal the end of liberalism.

Lib Dems should not be fooled by progressive overtures; we should make no mistake after watching the last five years that Labour sees us as a pesky annoyance. They tried their best at the general election to make sure we were no longer a party, they didn’t quite succeed. For years they treated us like a spurned ex with a victim complex; they bombarded us with messages calling us traitors, liars, backstabbers and every so often they threw in a “come home” message, but it was never sincere, if it had been they would have made a real effort to change on areas that mattered to liberals. 

The truth is Labour simply don’t get us and have never made an effort to do so, they’re too consumed in small c conservatism to understand our reforming zeal. When we wanted to change the voting system, to reform the House of Lords, they stood squarely against us and hurled abuse. We wanted to protect people from arbitrary government and make civil liberties red lines in coalition; they appointed Yvette Cooper as shadow home secretary, not exactly known for her liberal credentials. When our ideal was take the poorest people out of tax while aiming for a living wage, Labour wanted introduce a 10p tax rate for the poorest.

Even in practical terms, we are a party that has a strong internal democracy; we make our own policy at conference, something that is now alien to Labour. There’d also be a huge problem with campaigning. In the safe seat of South Shields, David Miliband had a contact rate of less than 100 people in his constituency, whilst Lib Dems are out campaigning all year around in held seats. Reed talks about learning the lessons in Scotland, but in many Lib Dems-held seats we increased our raw vote only to be taken out by the tsunami of Labour voters who’d crossed the floor to the SNP. We have lessons to learn, but they are not the same as Labour’s.

If Labour wants to learn those lessons they should do it without us. We are incompatible, and we could never co-exist on a permanent basis. From their treatment of us, to basic philosophical differences, to the practicalities – it just wouldn’t work. However, I don’t suppose it is meant to, it is meant to gobble us up, finish us off and allow Labour a much clearer path to victory

Andrew Emmerson is a Liberal Democrat activist and Liberal Youth Non-Portfolio Officer

Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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