Much of the coverage of today's Immigration Bill has centred around those controversial 'go home' vans, now ditched because they only sent one person home. Theresa May told the Commons this afternoon that 'we won't be rolling out the vans, they were too much of a blunt instrument'. In response to a question from Keith Vaz, she said:
'What I said to the right honourable gentleman is I didn't have a flash of blinding light one day and walk into the Home Office and say, I know, why don't we do this?' What I have done is looked at the interim evaluation in relation to the vans. There were some results achieved, but I think politicians should be willing to step up to the plate and say when they think that something hasn't actually been as good an idea, and I think they were too blunt an instrument, but I think that we should also be absolutely clear about what used to happen under the last government. Under the last government if someone came to the end of their visa, nobody got in touch with them to say that they should no longer be staying here in the UK that is now happening as a result of the changes of the immigration enforcement.'
So that's Labour realising that it cannot oppose what is being sold as The Toughest Immigration Bill Ever (although sadly May didn't play dramatic music or speak in a special deep film trailer voice when introducing its second reading in the Commons this afternoon), because to oppose would mean that Labour isn't interested in being tough on immigration. This was roughly the position that Labour ended up with on welfare before Ed Miliband sent Liam Byrne packing: Byrne was saying that the benefit cap wasn't watertight or tough enough, having previously opposed it at various stages. Rachel Reeves took up that mantle by promising that Labour would be tougher than the Tories on benefits.
The difference now is that Cooper has decided on a critical position from the very beginning, and is pushing for the government to support Labour's 'tougher' amendments in an attempt to beat the Tories at their game. Which shows that this is another area where Labour has lost authority: the party feels it has to out-tough its opponents, rather than trying to sell its own beliefs to voters.