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Theory: Yvette Cooper is stuck in a stable time loop

The chair of the Commons home affairs select committee believes that we haven't been talking about immigration enough. 

I’m worried about Yvette Cooper. Is she stuck in a stable time loop? Is she desperately trying to escape it, banging on the walls of a bubble in the Web of Time, frantically trying to get a message to the outside world to send help, and quickly?

Or maybe she’s suffering from anteretrograde amnesia, unable to form new memories.

I just ask because Cooper is in the news today calling for “a debate” on immigration, saying that “there just wasn’t much debate about it; it was one of those things that people just thought was a bit too difficult to talk about”.

Really? She seems to be talking about the accession of 10 countries to the European Union, most of them from Eastern Europe, and bringing with them a boom in migration into Britain. Except that cannot possibly be right, because I distinctly recall Tony Blair giving a speech about immigration, rather a long one, in Dover in 2005.  That’s right; perhaps worrying that the speech wouldn’t be sufficiently on the nose in its own right, they did it quite literally by the white cliffs of Dover.

Still, Tony Blair hasn’t been leader of the Labour party for a decade now. Perhaps she means under his successor, Gordon Brown. But wait, that cannot be right either, because in his first speech to Labour party conference as leader he promised “British jobs for British workers” and when he kicked off his re-election campaign he did so with a speech about, you guessed it, immigration.

Maybe she means after that? Well, Andy Burnham made talking about immigration a central plank of his campaign for the Labour leadership, not once but twice. Still, he didn’t win, and perhaps Ed Miliband didn’t ever talk about immigration, apart from when he engraved the promise to have “controls” on immigration on an eight foot stone and brought a nifty series of mugs on that same theme.

If he really did sit mute for five years as leader, that seems a pretty damning verdict on him, and particularly his shadow home secretary. I can’t remember who that was. I think it rhymed with “Trooper”.

Then of course, Andy Burnham ran for the leadership again and once again immigration was a central theme: he had a whole spiel about some guy he met who had no friends at work because everyone else spoke Polish. That was in 2015. I seem to recall that Yvette Cooper ran for the Labour leadership, and went so far as to talk about immigration, suggesting that Labour had been too “squeamish” to discuss the issue.

At least I think that’s what happened. I’m finding it hard to tell with these Labour leadership campaigns. They blur into a fungible mess: basically, Twitter gets very angry and then Jeremy Corbyn wins.

And if I’m not mistaken, literally days before a referendum on our continuing membership of the European Union, about half of the Labour party was suddenly seized by a desire to talk about the need to “reform” free movement. As doing this was probably the least helpful intervention imaginable, I find it hard to believe that politicians in general, and Labour politicians in particular, have a problem with talking about immigration.

It seems to me that Britain’s problem is not a deficit of debates about immigration, but a surplus. It feels as if, actually, we’re pretty clear what people think about immigration. About a quarter of the country thinks that immigration is a good thing and three-quarters are varying degrees of hostile to it.

I really don’t think what we need from our politicians is another “debate” about immigration. What we need is a policy that isn’t inhumane towards people seeking to come here, that sustains our economic model, keeps our universities world-leading, and can achieve public support.

My suspicion is that Cooper knows this too, but because she doesn’t know what that system would look like, she’s just going to the use the word “debate” again.

Unless she really is stuck in a time loop.  

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

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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

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