CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from the Sunday papers.

1. A health plan fit for Daniel Hannan (Independent on Sunday)

Andy Burnham warns that the coalition's health white paper represents the most dangerous threat to the NHS since its creation.

2. £200,000 for a head teacher? Does that strike you as being fair? (Observer)

The case of the head teacher Mark Elms, who earns £200,000-plus a year, provides us with a rare opportunity to define what we mean by fairness, writes Will Hutton.

3. New ways of speaking to a "special" friend (Independent on Sunday)

Ahead of David Cameron's first visit to Washington as Prime Minister, John Rentoul says his first task is to explain what a Liberal Conservative is.

4. American politics has caught the British disease (Sunday Telegraph)

Elsewhere, Janet Daley says that, thanks to Barack Obama's European-style government, America has learned about the titanic force of class differences.

5. Labour needs to talk about Gordon. Otherwise it will repeat its failures (Observer)

Until Labour honestly reflects on Gordon Brown's catastrophic premiership, the party will be telling itself the same lies that led to its defeat, says Andrew Rawnsley.

6. Isn't a graduate tax just plain dumb? (Sunday Times)

A graduate tax would deprive universities of yet more autonomy and leave them largely indifferent to the wishes of students, warns Minette Marrin.

7. Michael Gove has found that Whitehall is a difficult beast to master (Sunday Telegraph)

The coalition must struggle to reverse the civil service view that bigger government is better government, says Andrew Gilligan.

8. A steady drip of vintage poisons (News of the World)

The rows over Peter Mandelson's memoirs make the coalition government look like an oasis of sanity, writes Fraser Nelson.

9. Mandelson deserves better than these snide shots (Observer)

But elsewhere, Barbara Ellen argues that Mandelson should be commended for remaining good-humoured and composed throughout all the catcalling.

10. A greener world begins at home (Independent on Sunday)

The developed world must prove that high standards of living can be compatible with environmental sustainability, says a leader in the Independent on Sunday.

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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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