The Week in Review: Cameron’s immigration doublethink

Being prime minister often requires the ability to hold two contradictory views at the same time.

We can see this most clearly in David Cameron's attitude to immigration.

As an educated metropolitan man, Cameron knows that Britain needs immigration in order to grow. He knows that without it, the economy will fail along with any hopes he has of remaining prime minister.

But he also knows that a large percentage of the British public do not want any more immigration. His solution is to appear to be doing something about it, while in practice doing almost nothing of the sort.

This is the 'something must be done' approach to governing. Something must always be done even when it can't be done and won't be done. We saw this in the decision to send anti-immigration 'go home' vans around central London.

Nobody in the Home Office seriously believed this would deter illegal immigration and of course it didn't. But something needed to be done and in this case sending a BNP style "truth truck" around London was that something.

We saw it again with Theresa May's announcement this week that she intends to cap EU immigration. This is a more extreme version of the something must be done strategy, in that this something does not even need to be seen to be done.

Theresa May knows that she cannot cap EU immigration. She knows that a cap would be illegal under EU law, even if she could get agreement from the Liberal Democrats, which she can't. But something always needs to be done.

The other something that needed to be done this week was the release of Howard Davies report on airport expansion. All three political parties agree that something needs to be done on this issue, but none of them are willing to be the ones doing that something.

Labour tried and failed to expand Heathrow in government. David Cameron opposed expansion at the time but has now reportedly changed his mind. We can't be sure of this however, because he's announced that he'll only confirm what his views are after the next election. Something needs be done, but only if we're then stopped from voting on that something.

But if Cameon does choose to expand airports before the election, then it would take an amazing act of doublethink. It would require the ability to believe that what Britain most needs is to be opened up to the world, while also believing that what Britain most needs is to be closed off from it.

"Britain's borders must be shut," he will say, before adding "and once they're all shut, we'll build a brand new hub airport so we can get millions more people through them again."

Something must always be done. It would just be helpful if our politicians could work out what that something was first before doing it.

The season of good will

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg both had their Christmas parties for journalists this week. These are quite awkward occasions as the host shuffles round the room enthusiastically welcoming people who have spent the past year relentlessly slagging them off.

They put up with it in the hope that we might be slightly less likely to put our boots in in future, if we've shared a glass of free wine and a few canapes with them.

Whether or not this works is hard to say, but I did have a few conversations with other journalists in which it was agreed that both Clegg and Miliband have had a relatively good year. I thought this was a theory worth checking out when I returned home.

A quick look at Clegg's public satisfaction ratings this morning showed that they have gone down from -22 a year ago to -33 now. Miliband meanwhile has gone from -3 a year ago to -25 now. Miliband and Clegg may have had a good year, but if they have then the public hasn't noticed.