CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. The teamwork is admirable. But it will kill the Lib Dems (Guardian)

If the coalition sustains its honeymoon, says Jackie Ashley, the Tories will reap the rewards; if it fails, Labour will. Clegg needs to push voting reform fast.

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2. There's no case for cutting the number of MPs (Times)

The shadow justice secretary, Jack Straw, argues that "equalising" the size of seats is a crudely partisan Tory measure -- the Lib Dems will regret backing it.

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3. Hayward is jeopardising more than his job (Independent)

The leading article suggests that David Cameron's meeting with Barack Obama later this month could be overshadowed by tension caused by the BP oil spill.

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4. If mud sticks, unfairly, so can oil (Financial Times)

Clive Crook discusses the tide of harsh media criticism of Obama. Much of it is unfair. Some of it is ridiculous. But that does not mean it will not stick.

5. Saving industry needn't pit sentiment against machismo (Guardian)

Theorists like Vince Cable say bailing out British firms is pointless, says Julian Glover, an obvious departure from his predessor Lord Mandelson. Non-intervention is not a doctrine consistently applied.

6. Listen, Govey, not all sink schools are failing (Times)

Libby Purves warns that our new Education Secretary's eagerness to fire "underperforming" head teachers could result in an own goal. The measure of failure should be more sophisticated.

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8. Frankfurt's shroud of secrecy should be shed (Financial Times)

The EU and ECB need to have greater transparency, argues Wolfgang Münchau. The central bank should at the very least be forced to publish the votes of its meetings without having to identify the members.

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8. Hardliners are now the face of Israel (Independent)

By attacking criticism as part of an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic propaganda war, the Israeli government yet again fails to understand that the problem is policy, not PR, says Queen Rania of Jordan.

9. Libel laws: In the public's interest (Guardian)

The government must throw its weight behind Lord Lester's efforts to improve our flawed libel laws, says the leading article.

10. The burden of pain (Times)

The central task for the Lib-Con coalition is how to cut with a fair distribution of pain, says the leading article. It will be very hard to do so, but the rewards for success could be great.

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Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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