Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Labour must face this fact – it may be better in coalition (Guardian)

Spitting expletives at the Lib Dems has to stop, writes Polly Toynbee. If they'd governed together we'd have had no Iraq or civil liberties abuses.

2. When the Queen gave me a story, I didn't blab (Independent)

If you go around printing people's informal remarks, pretty soon you'll find your social circle confined to the newsroom, writes Andreas Whittam Smith.

3. US must not hide from the Middle East (Financial Times)

The American president would benefit by setting out a decisive regional strategy, says Philip Stephens.

4. Labour needs real cuts as well as real ideas (Times) (£)

What happens to the benefits bill under a Miliband government, asks Philip Collins. Voters need details as well as philosophy.

5. The Hugo Chávez cult is over (Guardian)

Oil can no longer blind Venezuelans to their leader's failure, says Francisco Toro. The flaws in Chávez's 21st-century socialism are all too clear.

6. Won’t Osborne learn the lesson? Wealth taxes don’t work (Daily Telegraph)

When even Tories talk about squeezing the rich, it’s clear Britain is heading for trouble, argues Fraser Nelson.

7. South Africa drifts under Jacob Zuma (Financial Times)

A country that should be leading finds itself at a dangerous impasse, says an FT editorial.

8. To govern alone, Tories must reach out to all voters, not pander to their own (Guardian)

David Cameron needs to show a determination to make life better for people whether they voted Conservative or not, says Michael Ashcroft.

9. Chicago’s got the second city blues (Daily Mail)

Chicago isn’t inhabited by savages, writes Martin Samuel. For some reason, though, its government is happy to let you think that way.

10. America’s best weapons are law and justice (Daily Telegraph)

Open and fair trials are playing an important role in fighting the al-Qaeda terror threat, writes Mark Martins.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.