Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers and the web

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait argues that the American obsession with "centrism" and "moderation" paralyses independent thought:

[T]aking the middle ground between the two parties is not a way of liberating yourself from dogma. It's simply a way of lashing your own judgement to the prevailing sentiments of the moment. Fifty years ago, the notion that the federal government should cover the cost of health care for all senior citizens was too liberal for even many mainstream Democrats to swallow. These days, even right-wing Republicans embrace it.

In the Guardian, David Marquand writes that Thomas Paine's arguments for the American Revolution should inspire David Cameron to support root-and-branch reform of the British state:

[T]here is more to the Whig tradition to which Cameron patently belongs than meets the eye. Over the French Revolution, Edmund Burke -- the greatest ornament of the Whig tradition -- differed bitterly with Tom Paine, the democratic republican par excellence. But they were on the same side over the American one. If Cameron wants to be a real progressive, instead of a phoney one in Blair's mould, he should start by reading Burke and Paine on the struggle between the American colonists and the British crown.

The Independent's Hamish McRae says that Barack Obama's recent speech on health care should teach British politicians how to discuss individual responsibility:

There is a string of areas where people throughout the developed world will have to take greater responsibility for themselves. Health care is one, because the great health issues of an ageing population will be more about people leading generally healthy lifestyles than receiving hi-tech medical interventions . . . President Obama gets all this and articulates it in a way that no European politician would dare do.

The Times's leader argues that David Cameron is wrong not to support higher salaries for MPs:

We, the public, are effectively MPs' employers. Like any employer, if we want a better staff, we must be prepared to pay a better wage. The alternative is a parliament made up of those who do not expect one, or those who do not need one. A smaller salary still risks limiting the House of Commons to toffs, trustafarians and retired hedge-fund managers, dabbling. A political class not closer to the people, but farther away.

In the Daily Mail, Alex Brummer writes that Alistair Darling may be vindicated as the economy begins to emerge from recession:

The apparent return to health of the economy does mean that Alistair Darling's rose-tinted promise of an upturn before the end of this year -- and in time for an election next spring -- does now seem a possibility rather than a forlorn hope.


George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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