Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Why living costs and the deficit matter (Financial Times)

The party that persuades voters it can deal with both issues will win the election, says Gavin Kelly.

2. We need more homes, not easier mortgages (Times)

Cameron is right to focus on the family but Tories must not be afraid to unsettle the housing market, says Tim Montgomerie.

3. A conservatism is spreading that the Tories can't fathom (Guardian)

The party's neoliberal leaders are out of touch with exactly the kind of values that look likely to define our future, says John Harris.

4. I’m happy for my party to link with the Tories (Times)

UKIP has transformed the Conservatives, writes Nigel Farage. A deal with like-minded MPs makes sense.

5. We can’t afford welfare for disabled people, but apparently we can afford a marriage tax break (Independent)

This marriage tax allowance is nothing more than the state tutting at those who do not meet its expectations, writes Owen Jones.

6. The real reason the left's so livid about tax breaks for marriage (Daily Mail)

Labour's fury with the PM is mere displaced anger that the public's on his side, says Dominic Lawson.

7. A Syrian solution to civil conflict? The Free Syrian Army is holding talks with Assad's senior staff (Independent)

A secret approach to the President could reshape the whole war, writes Robert Fisk.

8. Leaders must speed up on climate change (Financial Times)

Businesses will watch governments to check they understand the IPCC findings, says Nicholas Stern.

9. Ed Miliband in power would be like a turbine on a windless day (Daily Telegraph)

It is astounding that people are falling for the opposition leader’s Wonga-like offer, writes Boris Johnson.

10. This Tory tax allowance is just a marriage of convenience (Guardian)

The party's real motive is to create a synthetic hierarchy of morals, and reward or punish people accordingly, writes Tanya Gold.

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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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