Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Miliband's display of style and substance will worry the Tories (Independent)

Stunningly artful in positioning and projection, this speech by the Labour leader will resonate with many of the Liberal Democrats in government, says Steve Richards.

2. Not yet a Disraeli, but Miliband has taken a step closer to No 10 (Daily Telegraph)

The Labour Party conference has shown that leader Ed Miliband can talk human, writes Mary Riddell. Now can he win the bitter policy fights that lie ahead?

3. Ed Miliband's breathtaking bravura and a One Nation stroke of genius (Guardian)

This was the day Miliband took full command of his party and turned his private qualities at last into public strengths, writes Polly Toynbee.

4. Buy one political promise . . . get one free! (Times) (£)

We trust our supermarkets, writes Daniel Finkelstein. But a special offer like "Labour will make Britain one nation" turns us all into cynics.

5. Fluent, adroit... yet profoundly dishonest (Daily Mail)

Miliband's speech was markedly short on substance, but was adroitly crafted to strike chords with millions of disaffected voters, says a Daily Mail editorial.

6. Higher pay boosts economics and politics (Financial Times)

Policy to give the low-paid more money, rather than benefits, is worthy of debate, says John Kay.

7. Yes, Miliband demonstrated a new charisma. But he still needs to break from Tory austerity (Independent)

Miliband's promise to end free market experimentation in the NHS should be played on loop, writes Owen Jones.

8. British soldiers are dying in Afghanistan to win the war of Whitehall (Guardian)

Only one battle matters to the Ministry of Defence – the battle for resources, says Simon Jenkins. In this, the Taliban is not an enemy, but an ally.

9. Is unlimited growth a thing of the past? (Financial Times)

Today’s information age is full of sound and fury signifying little, writes Martin Wolf.

10. Is the coalition really giving us a freer society? (Daily Telegraph)

Smoking bans, CCTV, databanks... the crusade for liberty still has a long way to go, says Philip Johnston.

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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.