Five of the Best

The top five political articles from today's papers and the web

Gordon Brown is planning to set out a list of specific spending cuts before the general election in an attempt to reassure voters that Labour can reduce the deficit, reports the Independent's political editor, Andrew Grice:

Mr Brown will deny he is redrawing his favourite "dividing line" -- contrasting "Labour investment versus Tory cuts". However, he has come under pressure from Cabinet ministers, led by the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, to change his language on public spending amid fears that Labour could lose the argument.

In his Times column David Aaronovitch argues that the US government was justly furious about the release of the Lockerbie bomber and has some choice words for the Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill:

The utterly unrepentant al-Megrahi, according to Mr MacAskill, who had by now switched to high sanctimony, was facing a "sentence imposed by another power . . . He is going to die." . . . So these are the new "laws and values of Scotland" -- if you're going to snuff it within a reasonably short time (let's say months, or a year or so) you are thought to have been transferred into the custody of God and you get let out. How could one not agree with that?

The Daily Telegraph reveals the five books that Barack Obama plans to take on holiday to Martha's Vineyard:

At the serious end are Hot, Flat And Crowded - Why We Need A Green Revolution And How It Can Renew America by Thomas Friedman and John Adams, a biography of the second US president by David McCullough. McCullough is a particularly tactful choice as he lives down the road from where the Obamas are staying.

Over at Comment is Free Dominique Moisi argues that only Franco-German leadership can revive the European Union:

As long as each remains convinced that no alternative to co-operation exists within the EU, and that European co-operation remains a priority for both, it should not be overly difficult to restore their leadership . . . With the return of France to integrated military structure, the two countries are on the same "Atlantic" wavelength for the first time since 1966.

The Independent's Mary Dejevsky explores why the US tolerates far higher levels of inequality than Europe:

Some put the divergence down to the ideological rigidity that led Puritans and others to flee to America in the first place; others to the ruthless struggle for survival that marked the early settlement years and the conquest of the West. Still others see it as the price the US pays for its material success.


George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Brexiteers have lost battles but they are still set to win the war

The prospect of the UK avoiding Brexit, or even a “hard” version, remains doubtful. 

Before the general election, the Brexiteers would boast that everything had gone their way. Parliament had voted to trigger Article 50 by a majority of 372. The Treasury-forecast recession hadn't occurred. And polls showed the public backing Brexit by a comfortable margin

But since the Conservatives' electoral humbling, the Leavers have been forced to retreat on multiple fronts. After promising in May that the dispute over the timetable for the Brexit talks would be "the fight of the summer", David Davis capitulated on the first day.

The UK will be forced to settle matters such as EU citizens' rights, the Irish border and the divorce bill before discussions begin on a future relationship. Having previously insisted that a new trade deal could agreed by 29 March 2019 (Britain's scheduled departure date), the Brexiteers have now conceded that this is, in Liam Fox's words, "optimistic" (translation: deluded). 

That means the transitional arrangement the Leavers once resisted is now regarded as inevitable. After the eradication of the Conservatives' majority, the insistence that "no deal is better than a bad deal" is no longer credible. No deal would mean the immediate return of a hard Northern Irish border (to the consternation of the Tories' partners the DUP) and, in a hung parliament, there are no longer the votes required to pursue a radical deregulatory, free market agenda (for the purpose of undercutting the EU). As importantly for the Conservatives, an apocalyptic exit could pave the way for a Jeremy Corbyn premiership (a figure they previously regarded as irretrievably doomed). 

Philip Hammond, emboldened by the humiliation of the Prime Minister who planned to sack him, has today outlined an alternative. After formally departing the EU in 2019, Britain will continue to abide by the rules of the single market and the customs union: the acceptance of free movement, European legal supremacy, continued budget contributions and a prohibition on independent trade deals. Faced with the obstacles described above, even hard Brexiteers such as Liam Fox and Michael Gove have recognised that the game is up.

But though they have lost battles, the Leavers are still set to win the war. There is no parliamentary majority for a second referendum (with the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats still enfeebled), Hammond has conceded that any transitional arrangement would end by June 2022 (the scheduled date of the next election) and most MPs are prepared to accept single market withdrawal. The prospect of Britain avoiding Brexit, or even a "hard" version, remains doubtful. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.