The most controversial Newsnight decision since Jeremy Paxman's beard

Gavin Esler wears hideous sweater on the day the lobby argued endlessly about jumpers.

In the most shocking sartorial decision since Jeremy Paxman's beard, last night Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler wore this little beauty as a comment on the story - or non-story, depending on your taste - of the day. Jumpers.

The background is that the prime minister's spokesman, at a lobby briefing yesterday, was invited to walk into the trap of saying that people struggling to pay their heating bills should simply put on a jumper.

He declined, saying: "Clearly, [David Cameron] is not going to prescribe necessarily the actions individuals should take about that. But if people are giving that advice [to wrap up warm], that is something that people may wish to consider."

Unfortunately, his hedging didn't save him:

In a stunning display of the giddy speed of the news cycle these days, by 5pm Ed Miliband had denounced the jumper-wearing, Tom Chivers at the Telegraph had denounced Ed Miliband for denouncing the jumper-wearing, Sky News had reported a "wear-a-jumper row", and Chris Mason at the BBC had declared that the whole story was, not to put too fine a point on it, utter cobblers.

All of which the average person could have missed by popping out to the shops.

In the circumstances, you have to applaud Newsnight's decision that the most appropriate comment on the situation was a sartorial one.

And of course, Gavin Esler's cosy polar-bear knit remains only the second most controversial jumper to appear on Newsnight this year. First place still remains with former Number 10 adviser Rohan Silva, for this mustardy beauty in September:

PS. You didn't think we would miss an opportunity to show Jeremy Paxman's beard, did you? That thing is magnificent. He looks like a conquistador.

Gavin Esler in polar bear jumper.

I'm a mole, innit.

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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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