CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. It's madness to split the centre-left vote (Independent)

It is nonsense to pretend that the Lib Dems are equidistant from Labour and the Tories, writes Andrew Adonis. The return of a Labour government offers Nick Clegg the best chance to implement his agenda.

2. Labour are now the reactionaries, we the radicals (Guardian)

Elsewhere, David Cameron argues that his party's pledge to investigate public pay inequality proves that it is the Tories who offer the chance for bold, progressive change.

3. The Tories have just the man to find more jobs for British workers (Daily Telegraph)

Iain Duncan Smith's benefit reform proposals could transform the British labour market, says Fraser Nelson. If the Tories win, he should head a new Department of Social Justice, dedicated to healing our "broken society".

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4. The long parliament is over. Good riddance (Times)

The disillusion caused by the MPs' expenses scandal holds back any chance of an inspiring election campaign, writes Roy Hattersley. The one hope is that the rehabilitation of democracy can now begin for real.

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5. Now Obama is president with an endgame (Financial Times)

Obama now looks like a leader in command of his agenda, says Philip Stephens. That he has rebuilt his political authority at home means that he is being taken more seriously abroad.

6. As democracy unravels at home, the west thuggishly exports it elsewhere (Guardian)

The west has greatly oversold the benefits of democracy, writes Simon Jenkins. The forced elections in Afghanistan and Iraq do little to justify the death and destruction we have seen in both countries.

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7. If you're looking for class war, just read Cameron's policies (Independent)

The right may accuse Gordon Brown of waging "class war" but it's the Tories who are truly guilty of the charge, argues Johann Hari. If elected, David Cameron would institute a huge redistribution of wealth from the poorest to the richest.

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8. The case for a written constitution (Financial Times)

We need a written constitution to act as a further barrier against parliamentary misconduct, writes Samuel Brittan.

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9. Arms and the plan (Times)

The case for Britain retaining an independent nuclear deterrent is strong, argues a leader in the Times. Future generations would pay a high price for any mistakes.

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10. First round to the Tories, but the debate remains unreal (Independent)

Cameron has won the political battle over National Insurance but he has not answered the charge that he has gone soft on the deficit, says a leader in the Independent.

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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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