Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's newspapers

1. This is not class war (Guardian)

The Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, uses the first working day of the new year to launch into pre-election rhetoric. Labour has always fought for the many, not the few, he says, and Tory claims to do the same are a con trick

2. A simple way to keep law and order -- make everyone kiss and cuddle (Telegraph)

Over at the Telegraph, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, writes a light-hearted piece arguing that people are often frustrated by a complicated justice system when all they want is an apology.

3. China -- handle with care (Daily Telegraph)

The emotional condemnation that followed the execution of Akmal Shaikh is exactly the wrong way to deal with the world's next superpower, writes Malcolm Moore from Shanghai. Britain's tone must emphasise respect, although it may not agree with all of Beijing's policies.

4. The west's preaching to the east must stop (Financial Times)

Meanwhile, at the FT, Ronnie Chan argues that the west must get used to the new global reality -- it will not be as dominant as it was in the past, which could result in a better and safer world.

5. The world must tread carefully in Yemen (Independent)

The terror threat from Yemen cannot be ignored, but other countries must ensure that, before anything else, they do not make matters worse.

6. The war on terror has been about scaring people, not protecting them (Guardian)

The ease with which the plane bomber could operate exposes the vacuity and recklessness at the heart of the US response to 9/11, says Gary Younge. Measures have done little to protect us, but much to radicalise ever-growing numbers of people.

7. Britain doesn't need a dose of shock therapy (Times)

Commentary on Britain's economy has come to resemble tabloid reporting on the World Cup, argues Bill Emmott. We'll have to endure some pain over the next few years, but ignore the pundits -- the economy isn't a basket case.

8. Well done, P D James. But will the BBC get the message? (Independent)

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says she loves the BBC, but the most prestigious political programmes and documentaries are not open to "people like us".

9. Belching cows can help to rescue our planet (Times)

Although the prodigious methane output of cattle is bad for the environment, Graham Harvey puts forward the argument that their grazing on grass will soak up carbon.

10. Unlearnt lessons of the Great Depression (Financial Times)

The Princeton academic Harold James analyses parallels between now and the Great Depression of the 1930s, and considers the lessons we should learn from this.


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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.