|Learn from the Woolas|
Here's what it is - 'waah! There are too many of them! The government is too soft! New proposal? Foreigners might still get in. Waah! (We'renotracistokaythanksbye)'.
If you thought that would only apply to a Labour government (like I did), ha ha.
The Home Office caused a bit of a twitter storm earlier this week, sending this tweet:
Contribute your views to our consultation into how we can best reduce the number of students who come to the UK. http://tinyurl.com/3x2lzdzDon't bother contributing if you want to debate whether the number of students should be reduced at all, or whether the aim of policy should be to purely reduce the number of students rather than improve the system so students who do arrive in the UK follow the rulesor anything like that. The government has already decided.
You'd expect the Mail and its mates to love that wouldn't you? So did the Home Office. When the people behind FullFact attempted to get the figures they saw the Mail bandying about in its initial reporting of the consultation the day before the Home Office tweet, 'Bogus foreign students facing visa crackdown after shocking figures show a quarter flout the rules' (with a fantastic pull-out box saying 'A PASSPORT TO MURDER'), they found that they hadn't been published yet. The Mail had seen a nice preview, presumably because the Home Office expected that sort of coverage and didn't really care about a possible breach of the law on pre-release access to official statistics.
But the Home Office hadn't counted on 'Foreigners might still get in. Waaaaah!'
The day after the Mail's initial coverage, the paper turned. On Tuesday, the same day the government published the consultation and publiscised it with that infamous tweet, we got 'Government pledges to slash 100,000 foreign student visas, but critics say new rule is ripe for 'abuse''. See, the government? Not enough machine gun turrets in your proposals, you bastards. So now we're going to say 'critics' say something, and we all know who 'critics' are in a Daily Mail headline, right?
The Telegraph, perhaps not happy with not being given the same info the Mail was, went with 'New rules on visas would not have stopped 'spy' entering country'. Except it does reveal she wouldn't have been able to stay. Still, there's no such thing as a bad excuse to show a picture of a young Russian woman in a bikini, eh?
The other tabloids don't seem to have covered the proposed new rules at all. Whether that's because they've been betrayed by Ken Clarke not promising to lock people up so they can learn from more seasoned criminals or whether its because the government didn't leak the figures to them is anyone's guess. Think of how chilling that prospect is though, the government's paper of choice for potentially breaking the law and revealing immigration statistics pre-publication to is the Daily 'are there too many blacks' Mail.
Of course, the government may have known full well the reaction of the Mail, even as it fed the paper what FullFact show to be exaggerated statistics to support its current measures. Maybe the ground is being laid for a future, more Draconian set of rules and some semblance of public demand is needed. I don't think that's likely after Blair was so successful at the tactic of asking for something so extreme no-one would ever back it so what we ended up with looked like a compromise even though it was way worse than what we had before (see 48 days' detention). Even so, who knows what Machiavellian machinations are behind leaks to the press when Andy Couslon is top press officer?
Either way, the government needs to remember; whatever their anti-immigration proposals, they will never be enough for the Mail. Unless there are machine gun turrets. And even then there might not be enough machine gun turrets, or the people they're pointing at might not be brown enough.