Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The New York Times's Paul Krugman argues that the Democrats should abandon health-care reform if the bill is diluted by Republicans:

It would be disastrous if health care goes the way of the economic stimulus plan, earlier this year. As you may recall, that plan -- which was clearly too weak even as originally proposed -- was made even weaker to win the support of three Republican senators. If the same thing happens to health reform, progressives should and will walk away.

In the Guardian, Nick Clegg and Lord Ashdown say that Britain needs to change gear in Afghanistan and they call on Gordon Brown to form a war cabinet:

You cannot win a war on half-horsepower. The prime minister needs to make it clear that this struggle is now the nation's first priority and we will strain every sinew to win it. In most of our recent wars, prime ministers have formed a special war cabinet. Why not now? Why not a minister for Afghanistan? Why have we not assembled the very brightest in the FCO, DfID, MoD and Cabinet Office to form a co-ordinated team to see this thing through?

In the Daily Telegraph, David Elstein, the former chief executive of Channel 5, argues that the BBC should respond to its critics by replacing the licence fee with voluntary subscription:

[T]here is a way in which the BBC could, with one bound, be free. What gives all its critics leverage is the licence fee. It is unpopular, regressive, inflexible and inefficient, yet leaves all who pay with a spurious sense of entitlement. If the BBC announced that it was going to replace the licence fee with a voluntary subscription, what it paid its talent and executives, and what services it provided, would cease to be anyone's business but its customers'.

The Independent's Johann Hari calls for international action against "vulture funds" -- which buy the debt owed by poor countries for a small sum and then take them to court to demand that the full amount be paid:

Most people, when they hear about this, ask -- why is this lawful? Of course it's important for countries to repay their debts when possible so they can continue to borrow for investment where necessary -- but not if the debts were taken out by thieving dictators generations ago, and not at a loan-shark profit rate of 500 per cent.

The Economist's Bagehot column predicts that the Liberal Democrats will surprise their detractors at the next election:

A sound election platform, plus a powerful national urge to throw Labour out, may allow the Lib Dems to hang on to most of the southern seats that look vulnerable to the Tories, while taking a few from Labour elsewhere. Even if the outcome is not the Lib Dem nirvana of a hung parliament, with its mythical potential for coalitions and pacts, the party may emerge stronger than the carpers predict.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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