Archive for August, 2011

It was the Tories that broke Britain

31/08/2011, 03:43:55 PM

by Kevin Meagher

What was Labour’s problem with the concept of “broken Britain”?

The weekend before last, Tony Blair became the latest Labour voice to scoff at the “high-faluting wail” about a country that has “lost its way”.

Granted, the offending phrase is the offspring of David Cameron, and his erstwhile chums at News International, so comes preloaded to cause disdain to some on the left.

But we, too, used to believe Britain was broken. We used to endlessly criticise the “divided society” of “haves and have-nots” created in the 80s and 90s.

We were right to do so. This Britain was definitely broken when we took over in 1997. No question. We made a good start in fixing it: the minimum wage, tax credits, child benefit rises and investment in public services. Things, to coin a phrase, could only get better.

By 2001 our election slogan was “a lot done, a lot to do”. We recognised that there was still a mountain to climb in piecing our broken society back together. The legacy of 18 years of Conservative rule, was that whole communities and parts of the country had been reduced to a tightly-wound ball of social and economic problems that did not unpick easily. (more…)

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Wednesday News Review

31/08/2011, 06:59:01 AM

Ed to force a vote

Police cuts could lead to weaker law and order on the streets, Ed Miliband has warned as he called on the Government to “learn from the riots”. Mr Miliband has linked the riots to the need to have more officers on the streets. He wants to put pressure on the Government to reverse cuts to the amount of money given to police forces. He also opposes plans for directly elected commissioners which could cost £100m to implement. Mr Miliband hopes to be able to force a vote in Parliament on the issue – either through Labour’s opposition day debates or if enough members of the public sign a petition. But in the weeks since the riots, the Home Secretary defended the budget cuts and said they were not going to be as dramatic as some feared. While Labour have cited the figure showing the cuts amount to 20% in real terms, Theresa May argues they are smaller in cash terms. – Sky News

Labour leader Ed Miliband plans to force a Commons vote on police cuts to flush out Tory rebels and reveal Government splits. The move comes after Mr Miliband, 41, launched a new attack on Chancellor George Osborne’s decision to slash 20% from forces’ budgets. The Labour chief said it was “reckless” not to rethink the cuts in the wake of the riots that swept England earlier this month. The cost reductions will mean a 16,000 drop in officer numbers and a drastic fall in civilian police staffing. Labour may use an ­e-petition to trigger a Commons debate on cuts. Strategists believe many Tory MPs will not vote for the cuts, causing embarrassment for PM David Cameron. Those who do are likely to face a backlash from angry voters. – Daily Mirror

Mitchell is caught with his papers down

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell was pictured holding the document as he left Downing Street. He had been at a meeting of the National Security Council, chaired by PM David Cameron. The papers welcomed Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s announcement that he will stand down in 2014, stating: “This is very important. It improves Afghanistan’s political prospects very significantly. We should welcome Karzai’s announcement in private and in public.” Mr Mitchell is not the first prominent figure to accidentally show secret information. In 2009, Bob Quick was forced to stand down as Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer after he revealed details of an operation to foil an al-Qaeda plot. The year before, then housing minister Caroline Flint was pictured entering Number 10 with a briefing paper predicting property prices were set to plunge. – the Sun

The warning from the World Bank was disclosed in a private Cabinet briefing paper which also showed the British Government welcoming the decision of Hamid Karzai to step down as Afghan president. The paper was prepared for yesterday’s meeting of the National Security Council by officials working for Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary. The document was photographed as Mr Mitchell carried them out of the meeting uncovered. Much of the document refers to an ongoing dispute between the Afghan government and the International Monetary Fund. The IMF is reviewing its support for the Kabul government over allegations of widespread corruption. In April, Britain stopped its payments to the main Afghan reconstruction fund. Mr Mitchell’s note showed that the World Bank has said that unless the dispute is resolved soon, the “transition” process, where the Afghan government takes responsibility for security and Western troops gradually withdraw, will be jeopardised. “The World Bank have told us that the suspension of UK and other [donor] funds to the Afghan government will soon begin to destabilise [activities] essential for successful transition,” the note said. – the Telegraph

The Coalition is split over banking reform

Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers are at loggerheads over plans for sweeping reforms to Britain’s banks aimed at avoiding another taxpayers’ bailout in a future financial crisis. The Business Secretary Vince Cable is demanding the immediate introduction of proposals to force the banks to ring-fence their high street and riskier investment arms that are due to be published by the Independent Commission on Banking on 12 September. But David Cameron and George Osborne, the Chancellor, are sympathetic to the banks’ demand for them to be given several years to build the “Chinese walls” to be proposed by the commission chaired by Sir John Vickers – which could see the reforms delayed until after the next general election. Nick Clegg is backing Mr Cable and the timing of the reforms threatens to provoke a power struggle at the top of the Government. – the Independent

Tories and Coulson avoid an inquiry

The Conservative party will not face an official inquiry into allegations that it broke electoral law by failing to declare News International‘s payments to its former head of communications, Andy Coulson, after the elections watchdog concluded that there was insufficient evidence of a breach. The Electoral Commission had been asked to investigate a series of payments amounting to a six-figure sum made to Coulson by News International in the months after he arrived at Conservative campaign headquarters in 2007, as well as a company car and health insurance he received for three years. Tom Watson, the Labour MP and member of the Commons culture select committee, had raised concerns that the money could have amounted to an undeclared donation to the party. The revelation that Coulson received the severance payments from News International while working for the Conservatives put renewed pressure on the party, which had previously denied that he was paid by anyone else while employed by them. – the Guardian

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Politicians need to engage not constrain bloggers

30/08/2011, 09:57:31 AM

by Peter Watt

I had an interesting conversation this week with someone who still works inside the political bubble. They recounted how they had been trying to persuade a member of the shadow cabinet (I was going to say “senior shadow cabinet”, but everyone always does) on the merits of the Labour blogosphere. The shadow cabinet member was irritated that they were suddenly expected to take bloggers seriously. Why, they contended, should they have to take this self-appointed group of experts on nothing seriously? After all, all they seem to do is moan, criticise and complain. Of course, the same thing could be said of many journalists.

I have some sympathy with this Luddite shadow cabinet member. The rules have changed, suddenly we are all experts and commentators. Stories break and are commented on faster and faster. Trying to manage a story or maintain message discipline is increasingly difficult. The internet, Facebook, Twitter and the like have all meant that even if you wanted to run a command and control political operation, it would be pretty bloody difficult.

There is a problem here though. Political parties still want to operate as if they can control the message, in the same way that they did five or ten years ago. On the whole it worked then after all. Decide what you are going to say, and then say it often without deviation. As Ed Miliband discovered recently, it can occasionally sound a bit odd. But sound bites are only a manifestation of the truism of the goldfish like attention span of the average voter after all. Well, when it comes to listening to what politicians say that is. (more…)

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Tuesday News Review

30/08/2011, 06:56:01 AM

Housing crisis

The National Housing Federation said the number of property owners will drop to just 63.8% as house prices soar, compared to 72.5% in 2001. The study says rising prices, the need for huge deposits and a tightening of lending criteria will force ownership numbers down. It also predicts prices in the rental market will increase sharply as people struggle to own their own home. The group, which represents housing associations in England, says a shortage of homes in the UK is also to blame. Housing minister Grant Shapps said the government is aiming to deliver on its promise of 170,000 new homes in the next four years, coupled with encouragement of lenders to help first time buyers. However the NHF chief executive David Orr says the market is “dysfunctional” and warned: “Home ownership is increasingly becoming the preserve of the wealthy and, in parts of the country like London, the very wealthy.” – Sky News

The housing market is in crisis as house prices soar and ownership levels tumble, a forecast warned yesterday. Ownership in England will fall to 63% in the next decade from a 2001 peak of 72.5%, the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, said. It blames an under-supply of homes, big deposits and stricter lending rules. Oxford Economics, which was commissioned to produce the forecasts, expects a 20% rise in house prices, to £260,304, and private rents, to £582 a month, by 2016. About 4.5 million people are on waiting lists for social housing and only those in desperate need have a chance of being allocated a house. Federation chief executive David Orr demanded more Government investment to build affordable housing. – Daily Mirror

In England, 67.8 per cent of people currently own their home. London will see the biggest drop over the next ten years, from about 50 per cent to 44 per cent in 2021, while the North-East will be the only region to see an increase, rising from 66.2 per cent to 67.4 per cent. Today, the typical first-time buyer has to save £26,346 to get a mortgage – the equivalent of 20 per cent of the value of their home – according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders. Four years ago, they needed only a deposit of 10 per cent. However, Mr Orr blamed builders, not banks, for the housing crisis. ‘Despite the overwhelming need to increase supply, house building has slumped to a 90-year low, plunging the country even deeper into the mire,’ he said. House prices and rent are both predicted to rise by about 20 per cent over the next five years.  This would mean the average tenant paying £1,152 more per year. – Daily Mail

Crossrail delay to stop another Bombardier

Britain’s next train manufacturing contract could be awarded to a UK-based business after the £16bn Crossrail project delayed a competition to build new carriages. The move reduces the chances of a repeat of the Bombardier row, where the company’s Derby factory missed out to a German rival for a £1.4bn government contract. As a consequence of the delay, the Crossrail tender will include recommendations from a government review of public procurement that was announced in the wake of the Bombardier decision. Crossrail said the primary reason for pushing the award of the carriage contract from late 2013 to 2014 was to save costs, but said it would also allow “the conclusions of the government’s review of public procurement to be taken into account”. In a carefully worded statement, Crossrail indicated that a UK-based business will be in a stronger position for the new contract than it was in the Thameslink contest. – the Guardian

Cash for access returns

David Cameron has been accused of holding “cash for access” meetings with the head of a public affairs firm. As Tory leader he pledged to end the “far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money”. But since becoming Prime Minister he has twice held private talks with Conservative Intelligence boss Tim Montgomerie without any officials present, previously secret records show. The company charges clients up to £2,500 a year for advice that includes briefings on government policy and the “dos and don’ts” of tapping-up ministers. The talks came to light when Mr Cameron was forced to publish details of all his meetings at the height of the phone-hacking row. Labour MP John Mann said: “This revelation totally shatters his promise to clean up Westminster. It is old fashioned cash-for-access and lobbying dressed up in a new guise.” – Daily Mirror

Funding cap would ruin Labour

Labour could face financial ruin under plans being developed to cap the biggest donations to political parties, a Guardian analysis shows. The independent standards watchdog is said to have agreed to recommend a new limit on donations, introducing an annual cap with figures ranging from £50,000 to £10,000 being considered. Such a move, in an attempt to clean up political funding, would end the six- and seven-figure donations to the Labour party from its union sponsors, as well as the Tories’ reliance on the richest city financiers. An analysis of five and a half years’ worth of donations to the parties reveals the move would most dramatically affect Labour’s funding base. If the £50,000 limit had been in place over the period, Labour’s donations would have been reduced by 72%, the Conservatives‘ by 37% and theLiberal Democrats‘ by 25%. – the Guardian

Japan’s new PM

Japan’s parliament elected Yoshihiko Noda as the country’s new prime minister Tuesday, making him the country’s sixth new leader in five years. Noda won 308 out of 476 possible votes. The prime minister-elect will officially take over his new post after a ceremonial endorsement by Japan’s emperor, which is expected to happen Wednesday. Ahead of the vote, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan officially submitted his resignation, as did his Cabinet, clearing the way for Noda’s election. The Democratic Party of Japan, the country’s ruling party, picked Noda as its new leader on Monday. He served as finance minister in Kan’s cabinet. In his first speech as party leader, Noda called for party unity to tackle Japan’s massive problems. – CNN

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Brand the Tories right wing? I Woodwouldn’t

29/08/2011, 09:33:48 AM

by Rob Marchant

Oh dear. To read the Observer report of Shaun Woodward’s leaked memo on how Labour should attack the Tories, the question which springs to mind is not so much, is this going to be genuine Labour strategy as, what on earth was he thinking?

The thrust of the piece is that Labour should attack the Tories for reverting from their “cuddly conservative” projection to a more traditional right-wing positioning, and to make this the Brown-style “dividing line” between us and them, on which we should base our attack.

There is much to be said for dividing lines; indeed their judicious use has been a great help to Labour over the last twenty years. And there is no doubt that Cameron is now pursuing a more right-wing strategy than was being projected in the run-up to the general election. However, for a whole raft of reasons, Woodward has badly miscalculated.

First, he has missed that, in the current environment, being seen as right wing is not necessarily a bad thing electorally. In the wake of the riots – unlike various politicians and commentators – voters are in the main looking for punishment over understanding (whether they are right to do so is another matter). They trust the Tories over Labour on the economy. And they are not alone in a more international sense (perhaps someone should point out to Woodward the prevailing conservative hegemony across Europe).


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Monday News Review

29/08/2011, 06:59:45 AM

Ed’s new strategy

Labour is plotting a strategy to portray David Cameron as an old-style traditional Tory – despite warnings it will leave the party at odds with the public on crime, immigration and welfare. A leaked copy of a report ordered by Ed Miliband says Labour should launch a campaign to brand the Prime Minister as being ‘recognisably right-wing’. It accuses the Conservatives of taking ‘major strides back to their ideological roots’ since the election and points to the ‘increasingly shrill language the Tories are using as they vacate the centre ground’. In an analysis that will dismay senior Blairites in the party, the report suggests the Conservatives are too right-wing on crime, immigration and welfare – all areas where polling suggests the public would like to see even tougher policies. – Daily Mail

Labour is developing a new strategy to paint David Cameron as an old-style, traditional Tory, according to confidential documents obtained by the Observer, as the parties prepare to do battle during the coming conference season. The opposition believes the prime minister has abandoned the centre ground in recent months to adopt a more orthodox conservative stance on issues such as law and order, immigration and welfare. They are now set to launch a concerted campaign to brand Cameron as a “recognisably rightwing” leader in a move that will inevitably inflame political debate. The creation of the strategy follows reports last month that Cameron had polled negatively for the first time, with more people saying that the prime minister was doing a bad job than those backing him. The two-and-half-page paper written by the MP Shaun Woodward, a former Tory frontbencher and now head of Labour’s anti-Tory attack unit, and circulated among senior Labour officials, lays bare the areas where the opposition now believes Cameron is vulnerable. – the Guardian

David Cameron is to be depicted as an old-fashioned Tory in a new advertising campaign that is currently being developed by the Labour party, according to documents obtained by the Guardian. The campaign is being prepared into the crucial conference season, and the left are beginning to believe that Cameron has left the safe middle ground on issues such as law and order. Recent polls show that the approval rates of the incumbent Prime Minister in the Coalition government have plummeted. More people now disapprove of Cameron in the role than those who continue to support his leadership. There are also criticisms in a two-and-a-half-page document by anti-Tory campaigners that Cameron has abandoned the ‘compassionate conservatism’ stance that secured his party votes in May 2010. Leading policies, such as environmental affairs and preserving the National Health Service, have been ‘sidelined’ in favour of more traditional Conservative priorities. –

Free schools steam ahead

Twenty-four “free schools” are to open next month, the government has announced. The schools – state-funded and set up by teachers, charities, education experts and parents – are spread throughout the country but mainly concentrated in deprived areas with poor records of academic achievement. They have the same legal status as academies and do not have to follow the national curriculum, giving them more freedom than local authority schools. The Department for Education has confirmed that funding for all 24 schools has been signed and agreed. Under the coalition’s plans, the schools will also be able to prioritise the most disadvantaged children in their school admissions arrangements. – the Guardian

Some of the ‘free schools’ are existing schools that are taking up ‘free’ status. These include the Maharishi School, in Lancashire, which stresses the importance of yoga. A particularly vocal enthusiast of the ‘free school’ system is the journalist, Toby Young, who will be setting up his own school in West London. Young’s will have an academically rigorous curriculum, with an emphasis on Latin. Five different faith groups will be getting the chance to run their own state-financed schools. These include the first state-financed Sikh school, two Jewish primary schools, a Hindu school, a Hare Krishna School, and a Church of England school. The capital cost of setting up the 24 schools will range from £110m to £130m. They are a flagship policy from Conservative education policy. However, so far, only 32 of the 323 applications have been approved. – Huffington Post

You didn’t need an enquiry to tell you that

He went from hero to villain as the “Cleggmania” which swept Britain before last year’s election gave way to protests against his role in the Coalition Government. And now the Liberal Democrats have owned up to an uncomfortable truth: that targeted attacks on their leader, Nick Clegg, by political opponents are damaging the party’s electoral fortunes. An official internal inquiry into why the Lib Dems did so badly in this year’s local elections has pointed the finger at advertising campaigns such as one which portrayed the politician as “Cleggzilla”, trampling over public services. The Cleggzilla posters were funded by trade unions opposed to the Coalition’s cuts. Whilst some might argue that it is the job of political campaigners to criticise their opponents, the Lib Dems have cried foul, branding the attacks as “personal and vicious”. The complaint, in a report which will be presented to delegates at the Lib Dem conference in Birmingham next month, risks reopening a public debate into Mr Clegg’s state of mind. Since he became Deputy Prime Minister last year he has brushed aside suggestions that he is “fragile” and suffering from stress. – the Telegraph

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Sunday Review: There ain’t no black in the Union Jack, by Paul Gilroy

28/08/2011, 12:00:45 PM

by Anthony Painter

If the riots hadn’t spread beyond Tottenham, there is little doubt that we would now be having a far more heated discussion about “race” and British urban culture, rather than a generalised moral moan. The book that many would turn to would be Paul Gilroy’s 1987 classic: “There ain’t no black in the Union Jack”. In it, Gilroy outlines “race” as an agent of historical change alongside “class” or “gender” (note the inverted commas). And after riots in the early and mid-1980s that were more political in their nature than those we have just seen – in the sense that there was a deliberate political point being made – Gilroy’s theory of “race” as historical agent of mobilisation was forceful. But then things went a different way.

What marks out the latest edition of the book, is its introduction. Gilroy has substantially revised his approach. In fact, he declares that race is now “ordinary”. It has blended with poverty, material deprivation and inequality as a complex interplay of power, injustice and exclusion. Like other motivating social forces such as class, race has been shattered.

The “rise of identity politics, corporate multi-culture, and an imploded, narcissistic obsession with the minutiae of ethnicity” have fragmented “political blackness”. Bonds of solidarity have weakened. Rather than huddling together, the oppressed and excluded are wandering alone, facing the cold and the rain without protection. Where “blackness” was a motivating political force a quarter of a century ago, it no longer fulfils that role. (more…)

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The week Uncut

27/08/2011, 02:30:36 PM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut in the last seven days:

Dan Hodges on DSK, the media and innocence

Atul Hatwal reports on the rise in gambling

Matt Cavanagh fact checks the government’s immigration claims

Inside: The second life of Keith Vaz

Peter Watt wants to know what conference is for

Jonathan Todd asks if Rick Perry is the Republican Bill Clinton

Peter Jefferys on a co-operative rebuilding of finance

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YourKen: can a website really change the game?

27/08/2011, 12:24:47 PM

by Adam Richards

This week marked a big step forward for Labour in London and Ken Livingstone’s campaign to win back City Hall, with the launch of his campaign volunteer website, is clearly inspired by the success of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, which did so much of the mobilising of his support during the Democrat primary contest, and to a lesser extent the SNP’s campaign during the recent Scottish elections.

The website is built on the same technology from the US-based company, NationBuilder. The founder, Jim Gilliam, talking about his tools said ‘too often, online efforts are seen as a sideline to the offline efforts of a campaign’.

The success of NationBuilder is bringing online and offline communities’ together, empowering volunteers and energising campaigns. And it works. One example makes the point. Thanks to an ingenious system 50 SNP party supporters instantaneously signalled on Facebook their “like” for a speech by Alex Salmond during the buildup to the Scottish elections; simultaneously a video of the speech appeared on their Facebook news feeds. That clever device meant that 60,000 people instantly became aware of the speech and had the opportunity to view it. Pretty powerful stuff.

The key theme that runs through is community  which is important to consider in light of recent events in London. Outside of the micro-community of the [extended] family the key next two obvious communities are those of interest and those of place- both in quite obviously in decline. Fewer people know their neighbours names now than in decades past, especially in London with its high levels of residential churn and population mobility.

In my view there is a third kind of community though, the most important- that of time-based, or temporal communities. These are communities that come together either intentionally or serendipitously, often as a one-off and to make a formal decision or declaration to take action at a moment in time. Like an election. (more…)

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Don’t promise what you can’t deliver on immigration

26/08/2011, 11:21:00 AM

by Matt Cavanagh

Yesterday’s ONS figures are a reminder of the risks of politicians promising what they can’t deliver, particularly on an issue as emotive as immigration.

Before the election, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said immigration was out of control; afterwards, they said they would cut it dramatically. Neither was true.

The figures reinforce how stable immigration has been in recent years: non-British immigration is estimated at 455,000 in 2010, compared to 437,000 in 2009 – and broadly stable since 2006:

Long term immigration, emigration, and net migration of non-British nationals

Source: IPS, ONS Migration statistics quarterly report, August 25 2011

The Government’s chosen target is not non-British immigration, but ‘net inward migration’: total (British and non-British) immigration, less total (British and non-British) emigration. As the above graph shows, non-British emigration is falling, and while British emigration has risen slightly over the last year, overall emigration remains down – with the result that the Government’s target of reducing net migration below 100,000 has moved further from their grasp since the election:

Long term immigration, emigration, and net migration of all nationals

Source: LTIM, ONS Migration statistics quarterly report, August 25 2011

Yesterday’s figures suggest the interim immigration ‘cap’ on working migrants from outside the EU had negligible effect in 2010. The Government has made further changes since relating to non-EU migrants, including closing Tier 1 (highly skilled) to all but the wealthiest migrants in December 2010; a number of changes to Tier 4 (students) in March 2011; and a permanent ‘cap’ on ‘Tier 2’ (skilled) workers in April.

The latest quarterly figures to June 2011, published by the Home Office yesterday, should show these changes starting to have an effect, and indeed there is a slight fall in people coming from outside the EU for work (down 2.7% compared to the year ending April 2011), almost all in Tier 1 rather than Tier 2. This fall is offset, however, by a rise in those coming from outside the EU to study (up 3.5% compared to year ending April 2011).

More significantly, any reduction in numbers coming from outside the EU is likely to be offset by the continuing rise in those coming from inside the EU, particularly from Eastern Europe – a category of immigration which the Government cannot control.

Yesterday’s figures show that immigration from Eastern Europe rose from 52,000 to 71,000 in 2010 – and emigration back to Eastern Europe fell from 47,000 to 31,000, adding further to overall net migration.

In terms of the number of Eastern Europeans in work – as opposed to new arrivals – recent Labour Force Survey figures confirm that, after being stable between 2008 and the first quarter of 2010, numbers have been rising steadily since the election:

The changes the Government has made to immigration from outside the EU may well have more effect in the year to come – particularly on students and highly-skilled migrants.

But the rising trend in immigration from the EU looks set to continue. More recent figures from the Department of Work and Pensions, included in yesterday’s ONS report, show that for the year to March 2011, over 187,000 National Insurance numbers were allocated to Eastern European nationals, an increase of 24% on the previous 12 months.

In terms of employers’ future plans, a survey this week from the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development suggests that the number of private sector employers intending to hire migrant workers in the next quarter continues to rise. The CIPD survey also suggests that, if the ‘cap’ has any effect in future months, it is unlikely to deter employers from hiring migrant workers – it is more likely to make them switch to hiring migrants from inside the EU.

Ministers need to be more honest with the public about how far overall immigration numbers are really determined by government policy, rather than economic factors, and employer preferences. Ministers also need to avoid reacting to their difficulties with the net migration target by trying to clamp down further on those categories of migration which are the most economically valuable – and instead, start thinking about how to harness immigration to promote employment and growth. Conservative ministers in particular have consistently argued that welfare reform and immigration control are the answer to youth unemployment and worklessness. But with youth unemployment back over 20%, and NEETs at a record high, they need to look towards other policies if they are to prevent the creation of another ‘lost generation’.

Matt Cavanagh is Associate Director at the IPPR

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