Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Tories ache for a hero and they think it's Boris (Independent)

The Conservatives still await their modernising moment, writes Steve Richards.

2. For these one-term Tories a shrunken state is the prize (Guardian)

Devil-may-care Osborne cuts with an eye to his ideological legacy, while growth evaporates and misery flourishes, writes Polly Toynbee.

3. The knives were out for Osborne – but he may well have saved his reputation (Daily Telegraph)

The Chancellor made a critical decision to speak sombrely about the considerable difficulties the country faces, says Benedict Brogan.

4. We demonise Chavez for his challenge to our western dogma (Independent)

Critics should stop pretending he’s a dictator, says Owen Jones. He won fair and square.

5. Cameron must shape his European policy (Financial Times)

The Prime Minister must not bend to eurosceptics, who unrealistically want the best of both worlds, says Janan Ganesh.

6. From New Delhi to Westminster, governments are cavalier about the poor (Guardian)

We should stop generalising about the poor, whether in India or Britain, and start listening to them, says Aditya Chakrabortty.

7. To win, David Cameron must try a little tenderness (Times) (£)

Husky hugger or bovver boy? The Prime Minister must resist those urging him to adopt a negative strategy, says Rachel Sylvester.

8. George Osborne: a diminished chancellor (Guardian)

Five years of blood, sweat, toil and tears were enough to see Winston Churchill routed at the ballot box in 1945, notes a Guardian leader. George Osborne is no Winston Churchill.

9. Spoken like a true Tory, Mr Osborne (Daily Mail)

George Osborne made the speech he ought to have delivered 30 months ago, says a Daily Mail leader.

10. The Brics have taken an unhappy turn (Financial Times)

The new marks of Bric status are a weakening economy and political dysfunction, writes Gideon Rachman.

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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.