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The Beckett Report won't help Labour win the next election

There is something for everyone in Margaret Beckett's autopsy into Labour's defeat.. 

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the Mirror of Erised shows everyone what it is they most desire. Margaret Beckett's 35-page report into Labour's surprise defeat in 2015 serves a similar function: every bit of the Labour party will have something it can cling to.

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn will take heart from the fact that individual left-wing policies, like the mansion tax, were popular. But Corbyn-sceptics will note that it was voters that went for Tony Blair and David Cameron that failed to back the party in 2015, which they will take as an endorsement of a centrist approach. Ed Miliband's diehard supporters - they do exist, believe it or not - will see the report as an endorsement of the Miliband era policy approach but will argue that a more convincing frontman would have sealed the deal. 

Nor does the report offer a particularly useful way forward for Labour. A failure to win trust on "issues of connection" ie. welfare and immigration is blamed in part for the defeat - but whether that involves a harsher tone or "winning the argument" for either high immigration, higher social security or both is left unclear. Labour divides into four quarters on this: those who believe that the party must be unapologetically for both, those who believe that tighter controls on immigration will allow a more generous welfare state, those who believe the reverse, and those who believe that a rethink is required on both policy areas. None of these groups can say with any honesty that the Beckett Report provides them with any clarity as to which approach to pursue.

As for the question of whether to "defend the record", that, too, remains uncertain. This is as much a divide of attitude as left versus right. Ed Miliband, who led Labour from the soft left, believed that he could turn the page on New Labour and therefore escape the consequences of the 2007 financial crisis, a view he shared with Blairites who believed a "clean skin" from the 2010 intake, such as Chuka Umunna, was needed to win in 2020. But, equally, that Miliband doomed himself by not defending the record sufficiently is one shared by Labour figures as diverse as Peter Mandelson and Owen Jones. We know from the Beckett Report that Labour suffered the blame for the financial crisis - we're no closer to knowing whether it was a failure to sufficiently distance the Labour brand from the 1997-2010 period or to mount a compelling defence of it that was the problem. 

No part of Labour can feel confident in their analysis of 2015 - or in their take on the best way forward for 2020. 

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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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.