CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. Stephen Byers and the sad ghost of New Labour (Times)

Byers's fall from grace mirrors that of his party, writes David Aaronovitch. As New Labour was "intensely relaxed" about people getting "filthy rich", it is not surprising that Byers sought to profit himself.

2. Little has changed since the scandals of the Nineties (Independent)

Meanwhile, in the Independent, Antony Barnett recalls the first "cash for access" scandal in 1998, and says that little has changed in the murky world of political lobbying.

3. Only America can end Britain's Trident folly (Guardian)

Britain's "independent nuclear deterrent" is neither independent nor a deterrent, says George Monbiot. Yet only when the US dismantles its own Trident missiles will the UK consider doing so.

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4. Britain has bigger problems than the unions (Financial Times)

The Conservatives' recent talk of militant trade unionists is a distraction from the real challenges facing Britain, argues Philip Stephens. The number of working days lost to strike action is a fraction of those lost during the 1970s.

5. Anyone got an idea for the Labour manifesto? (Times)

Labour is struggling to think of affordable manifesto pledges and there are growing tensions over which policies to include, writes Rachel Sylvester. The party must work harder to prove it has not run out of ideas.

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6. Labour's cupboard is bare, apart from the three rattling skeletons (Daily Telegraph)

Warming to the same theme, Mary Riddell writes that Labour could be finished off by this week. The lobbying scandal, a troubled Budget and industrial unrest form the triple onslaught that could destroy the party's election hopes.

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7. Darling prepares for his ultimate test (Independent)

Turning to tomorrow's Budget, Steve Richards says that Alistair Darling faces the biggest test in his long and extraordinary ministerial career. He must deliver an authoritative economic message but also keep his desperate party in the game.

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8. Obama's bounce changes the world (Financial Times)

President Obama's success over health-care reform will undermine the cartoon image of America as a country where big business ruthlessly exploits the poor, says Gideon Rachman.

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9. If this is modernity, let me stay in the public sector cave (Guardian)

New Labour's programme of "modernisation" in the public sector has marginalised the first-hand experience of workers, argues Joe Moran.

10. You've made a fortune -- now let it go (Daily Telegraph)

The example of Albert Gubay, who has given away all but £10m of his £480m fortune, should be emulated, writes Christopher Howse. There are positive social and religious reasons for giving your wealth away.

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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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