In this week’s New Statesman: The battle for the soul of the Lib Dems

John Pilger: Inside Obama’s Pentagon | Christopher Hitchens interview | The new war in Israel.

Behind the mask

Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem leadership may be at ease with the small-state, free-market Tories, but many of their MPs and activists are losing patience. In this week's cover story, Richard Grayson looks at the growing fault lines within the Lib Dems and asks if the party is destined to split.

Elsewhere, in the politics column, Mehdi Hasan says that the Lib Dems, renowned for their ruthless and negative local campaigning, have brought these dark arts into government. Meanwhile, David Blanchflower warns David Cameron that he will have to eat his words after claiming that unemployment will fall each year from now.

In international politics, John Pilger tells us what he discovered when he entered Obama's Pentagon and Sigrid Rausing reports on the growing rift between the secular right and liberal human rights groups in the Middle East.

Also look out for my interview with Christopher Hitchens, in which the polemicist gives his verdict on David Cameron, discusses his campaign to arrest the Pope and explains why he's no kind of conservative.

Subscription offer: 12 issues for just £12 PLUS a free copy of "The Idea of Justice" by Amartya Sen.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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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