Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Why I no longer support a new high-speed rail line (Financial Times)

All the parties – especially Labour – should think twice before binding themselves irrevocably to HS2, writes Peter Mandelson.

2. Miliband hopes his tortoise will prevail over the Cameron hare (Daily Telegraph)

The Labour leader’s calm belies an air of frustration among many MPs and supporters, writes Mary Riddell.

3. We no longer believe the left will look after us (Times)

Large majorities of voters think Europe’s governments tax unfairly and spend inefficiently, writes Peter Kellner.

4. To rein in top pay, keep MPs poor and furious (Guardian)

As long as politicians harbour a pay grievance against public sector colleagues, they are more likely to guard the public purse, writes Simon Jenkins.

5. How can we be confident that things are really getting better? (Independent)

There have been so many disappointments over the economic recovery that caution is wise, writes Hamish McRae. So which green shoots are the ones we can rely on?

6. Egypt, Brazil, Turkey: without politics, protest is at the mercy of the elite (Guardian)

From Egypt to Brazil, street action is driving change, but organisation is essential if it's not to be hijacked or disarmed, says Seumas Milne.

7. Risks of a hard landing for China (Financial Times)

Beijing might need to do what its leaders neither want nor expect, writes Martin Wolf.

8. Don’t be tempted by nice Nigel Farage (Daily Telegraph)

Labour could well win the next general election if the Tories let down their guard, says Chris Grayling.

9. Most gay people still fear a knock at the door (Times)

Millions are persecuted for being homosexual, writes Daniel Finkelstein. The pursuit of global equality is still one of the great civil rights causes.

10. George Osborne's latest flop over 'shares for rights' is typical of modern government (Independent)

This measure's history says a lot about the replacement of ideology with marketing, says Andreas Whittam Smith. 

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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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