Brexit competence versus an end to austerity

We got a taste last night of how Theresa May will this week re-launch her election campaign, around Brexit and the control of immigration.

Implicit in her answers to Paxman were that Labour cannot be trusted to actually deliver departure from the European Union, or not to trade lesser controls of immigration for greater access to the EU's single market.

It is an attempt to win back a hearing from Labour's more working class voters in constituencies which voted to leave the EU, after Corbyn allayed some of their mistrust of him with his plans to tax the rich to pay for improved public services.

And he repeated something which, depending on your point of view, is either disarmingly and refreshingly honest or naive - and that was to say that immigration would only "probably" fall under Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn was the first leader on the night to be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman. Credit: PA

He also refused to acknowledge that under a Labour government a failure to achieve negotiated exit was even a theoretical possibility - thus depriving himself of the bargaining chip of simply walking out of Brexit talks.

So he has not trimmed or triangulated, but has allowed her the difference she wants.

Which may not be so dumb, since there are plenty of voters who are not anti-immigration and who view May's statement that "no deal [with the EU] is better than a bad deal" as one of the silliest ever (maybe around 48% of voters!).

Also we should not forget that May's pledge to cut immigration to the tens of thousands has no date stamp on it.

Theresa May was accused by Jeremy Paxman of weakening her Brexit bargaining position as a result of her campaign U-turns. Credit: PA

But Corbyn's failure to challenge the assertion that immigration has cut wages and living standards for the poor - for which the economic evidence is mixed - leaves him weakened in the battle for the hearts, minds and votes of Labour supporters who have been leaning towards UKIP.

It is the last proper week of campaigning and May wants it to be a truncated re-run of last June's EU referendum - which, if you remember, is what she tried to make the election about when she called it all those bloomin' weeks ago.

I imagine Corbyn's response will be to simply assert that Brexit is happening, whatever, and that the more important debate right now is over the future of our creaking and stretched public services.

So the choice facing us will be between putative Brexit competence and a putative end to austerity. If you have a panic attack trying to weigh which is more important, you may not be alone.