Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Guardian's Martin Kettle argues that David Cameron's strident anti-statism raises questions about his suitability for office:

Does anyone else in the economically developed world believe that the financial crisis has all been the fault of government? Or that the recovery, when it happens, will have nothing to do with ministers' actions? It is hard to believe that the word "market" did not appear anywhere in Cameron's hour-long speech, but it didn't. Nor was there anything about the banks. This is ignorant or dogmatic -- or both. Either way, it raises a massive question about Cameron's claims to lead the country.

In the Wall Street Journal, Tony Blair says that China is changing for the better in every sphere:

There is a new cadre of people coming to the fore within government. Conversations with Chinese leaders today -- at the provincial, as well as the central government level -- are a world away from the stilted, pro forma exchanges I remember on my first visit 20 years ago.

The Financial Times's Philip Stephens argues that the Conservatives are wilfully encouraging the politics of pessimism:

Senior Conservatives say that the gloom is all about honesty: tell it how it is and the voters will trust you. A slightly more cynical interpretation says that the darker the picture the party paints before the election, the more credit it will gain when prosperity returns.

My fear is that the urge to slash-and-burn has elbowed aside everything else; that, for many in Mr Cameron's party, the casting of government as the villain is a sufficient prospectus to govern.

The New York Times's Paul Krugman warns that the economic crisis has further weakened America's education system:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States economy lost 273,000 jobs last month. Of those lost jobs, 29,000 were in state and local education, bringing the total losses in that category over the past five months to 143,000. That may not sound like much, but education is one of those areas that should, and normally does, keep growing even during a recession. Markets may be troubled, but that's no reason to stop teaching our children. Yet that's exactly what we're doing.

In the Daily Mail, Max Hastings says that General Dannatt's charge into the political arena sets a worrying precedent:

[P]oliticisation of the army represents a big change for Britain. A precedent is being established which must lead to many difficulties. These will recur whenever and wherever the army is committed to operations and its commanders dislike the terms of engagement set by the government of the day. This they often do, and will again in the future.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn turns "the nasty party" back on Theresa May

The Labour leader exploited Conservative splits over disability benefits.

It didn't take long for Theresa May to herald the Conservatives' Copeland by-election victory at PMQs (and one couldn't blame her). But Jeremy Corbyn swiftly brought her down to earth. The Labour leader denounced the government for "sneaking out" its decision to overrule a court judgement calling for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to be extended to those with severe mental health problems.

Rather than merely expressing his own outrage, Corbyn drew on that of others. He smartly quoted Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, one of the tax credit rebels, who has called on May to "think agan" and "honour" the court's rulings. The Prime Minister protested that the government was merely returning PIPs to their "original intention" and was already spending more than ever on those with mental health conditions. But Corbyn had more ammunition, denouncing Conservative policy chair George Freeman for his suggestion that those "taking pills" for anxiety aren't "really disabled". After May branded Labour "the nasty party" in her conference speech, Corbyn suggested that the Tories were once again worthy of her epithet.

May emphasised that Freeman had apologised and, as so often, warned that the "extra support" promised by Labour would be impossible without the "strong economy" guaranteed by the Conservatives. "The one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain," she declared. Unlike on previous occasions, Corbyn had a ready riposte, reminding the Tories that they had increased the national debt by more than every previous Labour government.

But May saved her jibe of choice for the end, recalling shadow cabinet minister Cat Smith's assertion that the Copeland result was an "incredible achivement" for her party. "I think that word actually sums up the Right Honourable Gentleman's leadership. In-cred-ible," May concluded, with a rather surreal Thatcher-esque flourish.

Yet many economists and EU experts say the same of her Brexit plan. Having repeatedly hailed the UK's "strong economy" (which has so far proved resilient), May had better hope that single market withdrawal does not wreck it. But on Brexit, as on disability benefits, it is Conservative rebels, not Corbyn, who will determine her fate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.