Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Labour's golden policy key? Build, build and build more (Guardian)

We've seen intellectual Ed, writes Polly Toynbee. But if Miliband wants to win in 2015, he needs one idea that has our inner optimist jumping for joy.

2. A wary, weary west is leaving Syria in the butchers’ hands (Daily Telegraph)

It doesn’t matter where we put the red lines: the terrible truth is that we are more powerless than we dare to admit, writes Benedict Brogan.

3. Growth will not decide the next election (Financial Times)

A strong economy at the next UK election could harm the Conservatives, says Janan Ganesh.

4. Ed Miliband doesn’t sound like the next PM (Times)

Two years ago just 23% thought he would be the best qualified, writes Peter Kellner. Now it’s risen to a mighty 24%.

5. What links the MMR scare and austerity? (Guardian)

Both sagas have their roots in dodgy academic papers, the agenda-pushing press and politicians – and willing believers, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

6. Some missionary zeal at last, thanks to IDS (Times)

This week’s benefit reform shows what ministers can do if they are willing to face down Whitehall’s mandarins, says Rachel Sylvester.

7. However Ukip fares in this week's elections, the politics of protest can only take you so far (Independent)

The party remains far clearer about what it stands against than what it stands for, writes Donald Macintyre.

8. Confront UKIP with proper Tory policies (Daily Mail)

Re-introducing grammar schools, reclaiming control of Britain’s borders and ending abuse of human rights should be core Tory positions, says a Daily Mail editorial. 

9. Syria undermines Obama's strategy (Financial Times)

The president’s aim is to pivot to Asia rather than the Middle East, writes Gideon Rachman.

10. France shows us how to deal with jihadis (Daily Telegraph)

Why are our Gallic neighbours so much better at deporting terrorist suspects, asks Philip Johnston.

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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.