It’s time we grew out of PDC (public displays of care)

Sympathy and grief are best expressed privately, rather than than publicly and in competition.

Yawn. It's the wretched poppy debate again. It comes up every year, although this time it's marginally more interesting as FIFA is the premier poppyless bastard rather than poor old Jon Snow. (Although, as Giles Coren cogently asks on Twitter, "what diff whether these joyless overpaid spit-roasting thickoes wear a mark of Remembrance or not?")

We've all heard all the arguments. People should be free to choose; those who don't wear poppies are heartless bastards; poppies glorify war; they've become a social obligation not a genuine act of remembrance... and so on. I was talking about this on the radio this morning, just as I do every November.

And, every year, I say pretty much the same thing. I was clearly on autopilot. This time, the producer even joked that they looked forward to having me on again in twelve months. (For what's it worth, I'm in the free-to-choose camp.)

However, the debate should really be broadened to include other "sympathy tokens" -- such as Aids ribbons and Marie Curie Daffodils -- and indeed, other manifestations of sympathy.

As a nation, we are way too mawkish. We seem to be constantly wailing and gnashing, as though sympathy and grief are the only wellsprings of collective expression. Perhaps they are. Every time someone famous dies, complete strangers tweet their condolences. It's hard to go to a sports fixture during which there isn't a two-minute silence. If you go out not wearing some sort of badge or wristband, you feel underdressed.

Why do we feel the need to advertise our sympathy? Of course we all care! Only a sociopath could fail to be moved by the death of a 21-year-old in Helmand. We all know people who have suffered from either Aids or cancer. But is it really necessary to show the world that you sympathise? Are we really working on the assumption that most people are heartless bastards who have to be shamed into giving? Probably. Indeed, not wearing a poppy is to invite being labelled a pariah.

There's a kind of grief fascism at work here. Once it was the Queen who was rudely forced to show us she cared; now we all are. The consequences of obligatory public grieving and sympathising are all too obvious. It renders these acts as pure tokenism, things we ought to do rather than things we want to do. Sympathy and grief are best expressed privately, rather than publicly and in competition.

To paraphrase Smashy and Nicey, we should all do our bit, but shouldn't like to talk about it.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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