Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Guardian's Michael White explores the battles to come over expenses reform:

Should receipts be required for all expenses, not just above £25, previously £250? Should all family members of an MP, not just their children, be barred from direct employment? Does the principle that no "personal financial benefit" should acrue from expenses mean those who do profit from London flat sales hand the profit back?

The Times's David Aaronovitch argues against the free-market ideologues who relish public spending cuts:

I absolutely don't want to go back -- and nor, when it comes to it, I think, do my fellow citizens -- to the days of chronically underfunded and crumbling public buildings and services. Forget the magic, we're talking about more Baby Ps, more school dropouts, fewer street cleaners, less money for hospices, cuts in Sure Start, an upswing in waiting lists, a downswing in literacy.

In the New York Times, Bob Herbert writes that while economists predict the Great Recession is at an end the unemployed are being forgotten:

At some point the unemployment crisis in America will have to be confronted head-on. Poverty rates are increasing. Tax revenues are plunging. State and local governments are in a terrible fiscal bind. Unemployment benefits for many are running out. Families are doubling up, and the number of homeless children is rising. It's eerie to me how little attention this crisis is receiving. The poor seem to be completely out of the picture.

In the Daily Telegraph, Mary Riddell says that the Conservatives and Labour must twin public spending cuts with a vision of a better society:

Chainsaw politics is not an easy sell, but the fortunes of both party leaders will hinge on who can hack less painfully. Britons, famous for their Blitz spirit, consider themselves adept at shouldering adversity. The political skill will be to harness that latent goodwill. The verdict on who is the Nice and who is the Nasty party may settle this general election, and the next.

The Independent's Dominic Lawson details Alan Clark's misdemeanours and rounds on his defenders:

Alan Clark was not wonderful. He was sleazy, vindictive, greedy, callous and cruel. He was also a thorough-going admirer of Adolf Hitler, although his sycophants persisted in thinking that his expressions of reverence for the Führer were not meant seriously. They absolutely were.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.