Pick of the week

Best of NS in print and online.

From the magazine

1. Strictly come learning

Samira Shackle meets the new head of Ofsted, Michael Wilshaw.

2. Cameron has outsourced worrying about compassion. He'll regret it

Iain Duncan Smith's fretting about poverty is no replacement for an empathetic prime minister, writes Rafael Behr.

3. Don't be deceived by the myth of Mitt Romney's moderation

The former Massachusetts governor defends the interests of the rich and powerful at all costs, writes Mehdi Hasan.

4. Why aren't women funny on TV?

All-male panel show line-ups are making me lose my sense of humour, says Helen Lewis-Hasteley.

5. The NS Profile -- Claire Tomalin

The award-winning writer and former New Statesman literary editor hangs up her biographer's coat with a life of Dickens . . . and contemplates one of her own. By Sophie Elmhirst.


From the web

1. There was too much mystery for Downing Street to bear

Rafael Behr on Liam Fox's protracted departure.

2. Obama: Mr 99%?

Gavin Kelly says the US president needs to recognise the resentments that have sparked the 99% movement.

3. The world according to Paul Dacre

The Daily Mail editor on corrections, self-regulation and liberals who loathe the tabloids. By Steven Baxter.

4. NHS reform is a never-ending nightmare for Cameron

The Prime Minister could end up with a reputation as the man who broke the NHS, writes Rafael Behr.

5. Hitchens: "I'm not going to quit until I absolutely have to"

Writer makes first public appearance for months in Texas, notes George Eaton.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.