Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

In the Times the former army officer Patrick Hennessey warns the military to be wary of criticising journalists such as the freed New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell:

That Mr Farrell was investigating the sort of collateral damage incident that is undermining the progress being made by Nato forces is admirable. Those within the Armed Forces who would seek to criticise or restrict journalists such as him would do well to remember that those same journalists, reporting on kit shortages and under-resourcing, put a public pressure on the Government that the MoD has been unable to do.

The Independent's Andreas Whittam Smith writes that David Cameron's plan to cut ministerial pay ignores the extraordinary growth of the payroll vote:

Actually the figure to look at is not what ministers are paid but how many there are. Way back in 1900, the government consisted of 60 ministers. By 1970, after two world wars, the development of the welfare state and greater involvement by government in every area of life, the number had risen to just above 100. What has subsequently driven the total to 170 is not the requirements of governing but the desire to control the House of Commons.

The Guardian's Martin Kettle argues that the illiberalism of British society prevents the Liberal Democrats doing as well as they deserve:

The truth is simply that most Tory and Labour voters are not instinctively liberals.

Being liberal, the writer-turned-politician Michael Ignatieff said in a lecture in London in July, is a habit of the heart. A liberal has a generous heart and an open mind. A liberal puts freedom first, is optimistic about human nature but sceptical about power. Ignatieff's definitions seem about right to me. But I do not think a majority of people share them, and certainly not in either the Tory or the Labour party.

In the Independent, Steve Richards writes that Labour's problems are too entrenched and complex for a change of leader to help:

The harsh reality for Labour is that the influential right-wing newspapers that once gave Blair a fair hearing have made up their mind that they want Cameron and Osborne in power. Almost certainly they would report a sudden switch of leader as a symptom of Labour's crisis and not as a successful resolution of internal traumas. What is more, if [Alan] Johnson as a new prime minister were to make one slip as he outlined economic policy for the first time in his political career, they would slaughter him and his party.

The Economist's Bagehot column says that the malaise in Afghanistan could mark the end of Britain's "era of war":

For fear of seeming unpatriotic, no prominent politician is calling for withdrawal -- yet. Nevertheless, the momentum of the war and opinion about it seem to be heading that way. As Mr Blair learned, making predictions in such a volatile world can be hazardous.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn fares well in his toughest interview yet

Labour will be relieved that Corbyn's encounter with Andrew Neil was less painful than Theresa May's. 

Jeremy Corbyn's half-hour BBC1 interview with Andrew Neil was the toughest grilling he has faced since becoming Labour leader. Neil sought to cause Corbyn maximum discomfort by confronting him with his past views on the IRA, NATO and Trident (which he never anticipated having to defend from his current position). 

"I didn't support the IRA, I don't support the IRA," Corbyn said in response to the first. After Neil countered that Corbyn "invited convicted IRA terrorists to tea in the Commons a few weeks after the Brighton bomb," the Labour leader replied: "I never met the IRA. I obviously did meet people from Sinn Fein" (a distinction without a difference, some will say). But after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, Corbyn is aided by the reduced toxicity of the subject (New Labour dealt with terrorists) and the fact that for some voters, the young most of all, "the troubles" are a distant memory.

NATO, Neil recalled, had been described by Corbyn as "'a very dangerous Frankenstein of an organisation', 'a danger to world peace'. Two years ago you said it should be 'wound up'." It is to Corbyn's credit, in some respects, that he struggles to disguise his sincere views, and he did on this occasion. "NATO exists," he observed at one point, eventually conceding after much prodding: "I will be a committed member of that alliance in order to promote peace, justice, human rights and democracy". But nearly 30 years after the end of the Cold War, the subject will seem esoteric to many voters.

Trident, however, is another matter. "My views on nuclear weapons are well-known," Corbyn correctly noted, making it clear that the Labour manifesto committed to full renewal against his wishes. "I voted against the renewal," he said. "Everybody knows that because I wanted to go in a different direction." That the opposition is divided on such a profound issue - and that Corbyn's stance is at odd with the electorate's - is undoubtedly a drag on Labour's support.

But under forensic examination, Corbyn emerged stronger than many predicted. There were few moments of intemperance and no disastrous gaffes. Corbyn successfully dodged a question on whether Labour would cut immigration by replying that the numbers would "obviously reduce" if more workers were trained. Indeed, compared with Theresa May's painful encounter with Neil last Monday, Corbyn's team will be relieved by his performance. Though the Labour leader cannot escape his past, he avoided being trapped by it tonight. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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