6 Mar 2014

If coalition relations are bad now, what will they be like when the general election comes round?

Never before do I recall a minister publicly attacking another in such stark, vituperative terms. In a speech to Demos this morning, the new Conservative Immigration Minster James Brokenshire asked why the Business Secretary Vince Cable “kept asserting what seem to be ¬†falsehoods” on the issue.

Falsehoods? That’s very strong language – only one rank lower than “lies”, and a word that would be regarded as “unparliamentary” and ruled out-of-order had the minister dared say it said in the House of Commons.

What’s more, in the text of the speech distributed by Mr Brokenshire’s office afterwards – the pre-delivery draft version, I presume – Mr Brokenshire isn’t even quoted using the qualifying word “seem”. It’s “falsehoods” pure and simple. And that stronger statement, I imagine would have been the speech agreed by the Home Secretary Theresa May and by Downing Street.

Tory Immigration minister James BrokenshireMr Brokenshire spent five minutes of his speech today trying to demolish what he said were a series of statements on immigration by Vince Cable in the last week which he said were “simply incorrect” – on British people emigrating, the displacement of workers, student visas and so on. And it was all so personal. Several times Mr Brokenshire mentioned Vince Cable by name. He accused the Business Secretary of speaking “condescendingly”, and told Cable to stick to the facts. Quite brave for a junior minister to attack a Cabinet colleague, and a man who is 24 years his senior.

And if relations between the Coalition parties are like that now – 14 months before the election – what will they be like a year from now? No doubt Tory ministers will by then be accusing their Liberal Democrat colleagues of outright “lies”, if not murder.

It must also be slightly difficult for Home Office civil servants having to distribute and explain the words of a minister attacking the boss of another government department.

This evening, in a speech at Mansion House in the City, Vince Cable will stick to his guns. While not hitting back at James Brokenshire personally, he’ll say he’s “intensely relaxed” about people coming to work or study in Britain.

Meanwhile, in what was a long and thoughtful speech, James Brokenshire reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to bringing net immigration down to tens of thousands a year, rather than the current hundreds of thousands.

Afterwards, I asked him whether it was realistic still to try and achieve that target by the election next spring. Yes, he confirmed, 2015 is still the target.

As Mr Brokenshire delivered his speech, the Home Office and the Business Department published their much discussed “secret report” on the impact of immigration on native employment. The report, a survey of existing research into the effects of immigration on employment levels, broadly came down in Vince Cable’s favour.

“There is agreement across the literature,” the report says, “that there are no substantial long-term impacts of migration on the labour market outcomes of UK workers.” In other words, over time, the overall impact is negligible.

The report says that “when the economy is strong” then “there is relatively little evidence that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives”.

However, the report does say “there is evidence of some labour market displacement, particularly by non-EU migrants in recent years when the economy was in recession”.

All a bit of a problem for Tories wanting to be tough on immigration yet proclaim economic recovery. The report suggests immigration only has an impact on jobs during recession, and yet Conservative ministers surely want to persuade us that the recession is well and truly over.

Tweets by @MichaelLCrick

4 reader comments

  1. grahamgomeldon says:

    This is hardly an auspicious start for Brokenshire. He must surely have known that the suppressed report on immigration was going to released today. Yet he gives a speech which was effectively demolished as he was speaking.

    He accuses Cable of lying, yet Brokenshire’s assertions are shown to be lies while he was actually on his feet! Quite remarkable.

    He presumably thinks that any lie, repeated often enough, will eventually be believed. Sadly for him, this is not the case when you have, on one hand, the immoderate propaganda of what I think is now called a swivel-eyed loon – and on the other an objective analysis of the facts by impartial authors.

    He will presumably go on as he has started, making speeches which will please Theresa May, and to hell with the truth.

  2. Aidan Turner says:

    I know who is guilty of falsehoods, and it is not Vince Cable.

  3. Philip says:

    “long and thoughtful” speech – but apparently at odds with the evidence!

  4. Philip says:

    And, of course, it just got worse. Alleging the use of immigrants by the middle classes as servants and cheaper plumbers, etc, without checking whether his senior colleagues might have been doing this suggests both shooting himself in the foot & putting his foot in his mouth at the same time…A difficult feat, but one neatly achieved by Mr Brokenshire

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