John Prescott: a Liberal Democrat role model?

The Lib Dems can learn from Prescott's anti-establishment stance.

Tuesday lunchtime at Liberal Democrat conference saw me speaking at an IPPR fringe meeting on what the Liberal Democrat future strategy should be. Reaching for a striking, memorable way to make my comments stick in people's minds in amongst the excellent other speakers at the event such as Simon Hughes, I revived a parallel that I had briefly blogged about a few months back: John Prescott.

No great surprise really that in a room with several Labour members and national journalists, this time the line spread rather wider, with some good natured (I think!) banter from John Prescott himself on Twitter and a lengthy piece from theBBC.

The point, however, is a serious one. What Prescott managed to do very successfully as a backbencher in the last years of the Labour government was both be a member of a party in power and also be consistently anti-establishment, especially in his attacks on some in the financial sector - and his mobilising of public support behind his campaigns.

For a party such as the Liberal Democrats who have such a strong tradition of anti-establishment ideology and campaigning, pulling off that combination now is all the more important. Or as Party President Tim Farron put it in a debate later in the day, "Let us become the administration but never, ever the establishment".

Whether it is traditional establishment forces in the financial sector wanting to see off banking reform, in the unelected House of Lords wanting to hold on to political power without that little matter of democracy or in a myriad of other places, the establishment forces are not defeated simply by having some different names on ministerial name plates.

So sorry John, but I think I'll be using your example again in future.

Mark Pack is co-editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and in his third decade of conference-attending.

Mark Pack is the Head of Innovations for the Lib Dems. He previously worked in their Campaigns & Elections Department for seven years.
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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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