Morning Call: pick of the comment

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

1. The Liberal Democrats are not for sale (Times)

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, joins in the pre-election cacophony, hitting back at speculation to say that if there is a hung parliament there will be no under-the-counter deal with either big party.

2. And the first-round winner is . . . Clegg (Independent)

Meanwhile, at the Independent, Steve Richards says that, as the election fight opens, Clegg is finally being taken seriously by David Cameron and Gordon Brown.

3. Come off it, Dr Cameron (Guardian)

Productivity matters more than cutting bureaucracy, says John Appleby, discussing the Conservatives' NHS plans. And there's a problem with the changes the Tories have pledged: they've happened already.

4. America is losing the free world (Financial Times)

Gideon Rachman argues that developing democracies such as India and Brazil may be alienated by US foreign policy, and be more likely to line up with authoritarian powers such as China and Iran.

5. For Caesar and Cicero, read Ed Balls and Peter Mandelson (Times)

Rachel Sylvester discusses the power struggle between Ed Balls and Peter Mandelson on how best to approach Labour's election campaign, and the resulting incoherence.

6. David Cameron's lone-star strategy gives Gordon Brown a glimmer of hope (Daily Telegraph)

Yesterday's poster of David Cameron confirms the Tories' emphasis on a lone political hero, says Mary Riddell. But political times could be changing -- is this a risky strategy?

7. Help Yemen, not its government (Guardian)

Al-Qaeda is the least of Yemen's problems, says Brian Whitaker. The country needs aid, but propping up its ailing regime will only perpetuate the situation.

8. Profiling air passengers could make terrorist attacks easier (Independent)

Talal Rajab explains that Islam is not ethnically or geographically centred, and nor is terrorism. This, and the fact that many converts have been involved in terrorist plots, makes it impossible to profile people by religion accurately.

9. Refocus the regulatory debate on essentials (Financial Times)

Regulations and laws to stabilise the financial system must deal with the root causes of today's critical difficulties, says Nicholas Brady.

10. After this 60-year feeding frenzy, Earth itself has become disposable (Guardian)

George Monbiot discusses consumerism, saying that it has, as Huxley feared, changed all of us -- we'd rather hop to a brave new world than rein in our spending.

 

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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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