For the longest serving Home Secretary in 50 years, Theresa May’s record in government is not without its blemishes. On this afternoon’s Daily Politics home affairs debate she made a clear recognition of the government’s failure to meet the Conservative manifesto promise to reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’. May said:
‘We’ve accepted that we have failed to meet that particular target… [But] if you say to me, Andrew, that there’s nothing we have done on immigration, then you’re wrong. What we have done is not met that particular target.
‘Net migration from outside the EU is lower than it was in 2010, but one of the reasons is that we have seen a significant increase in EU migration. We’re one party that will be in government that has actually set out what we’ll do, a credible plan that involves changing welfare benefits, negotiating a new package with the EU, putting free movement into that.’
The Home Secretary also revealed that only a single person is currently subject to a TPIM; the terrorist prevention tool that replaced Labour’s control orders. Since being introduced in January 2012, the measure appears to have died a slow death.
Despite this, Theresa May has an ability to appear calm and assured, in contrast with her opposite number, Yvette Cooper, who has – for want of a better word – mastered an almost permanent sense of faux-outrage. The Shadow Home Secretary was challenged on Labour’s commitment to refugees from the Mediterranean, the party’s ‘scaremongering’ on violent crime, and how it will rein in spending at the Home Office. On the latter, she said:
‘We’ve identified £800m of savings in order to protect the front line, including from requiring forces to work together but also including getting rid of the subsidy for gun licences, getting rid of the police and crime commissioners, which is should save £130m… Our plans mean we can stop 10,000 police officers being cut.’
Theresa May responded with the claim that Labour had earmarked Home Office spending cuts to reduce the deficit, rather than put towards police officers. ‘Who is right,’ she mischievously asked, ‘the Shadow Chancellor and his Treasury team, or you?’
The debate may have been a battle between Theresa and Yvette – but it also involved Norman Baker, the former Home Office minister who blamed his resignation last year on a ‘constant battle’ with Ms May that was like ‘walking through mud’. Baker was content to defend his previous work, however, and insisted the Liberal Democrats had a ‘good record’ on home affairs. He may have sparred with May in Whitehall and Westminster over the past few years, but today there was little sign of animosity with his former boss.