Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. The Tories keep swiping, but Ed Miliband is an elusive target (Daily Telegraph)

In the political hall of mirrors, Labour’s policies are becoming ever harder to attack, says Mary Riddell.

2. Austerity will give Tories an electoral edge (Financial Times)

Conservative spending cuts are decreasing the opposition’s client base, says Janan Ganesh.

3. The elastic middle has to be defined, once and for all (Guardian)

Politicians should be clear about who is really struggling, says Gaby Hinsliff. It's not those who have been forced to kick their Waitrose habits.

4. Obama is not to blame for Middle East anger (Financial Times)

The policies pursued by Obama mean that the US is much better positioned to deal with anti-American violence, writes Gideon Rachman.

5. Is this Britain's last coalition government? (Independent)

Coalition often works well at local level, writes Steve Richards. But several factors, including the electoral system, may limit how many national ones we get.

6. Parties must stop playing unhappy families (Times) (£)

A toxic combination of troubled history and flawed political genes is afflicting all sides at Westminster, writes Rachel Sylvester.

7. Overhauling exams: lessons in nostalgia (Guardian)

A lurch back to a world where a three-hour written paper is the be-all and end-all risks jettisoning advances in education, says a Guardian editorial.

8. China is flexing its muscles: time to worry (Independent)

It would be crazy if a bunch of five uninhabited rocks precipitated a military conflict between two of the world powers, says Dominic Lawson. That doesn't mean it won't happen.

9. The welfare state is broken – so what’s next? (Daily Telegraph)

To promote prudence and responsibility, we should return to mutual aid societies, argues Philip Johnston.

10. Liberal Democrats should beware a pact with Labour (Guardian)

Working for a future coalition with Labour is deeply dangerous for our identity as a Liberal party, writes Malcolm Bruce.

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John Major's double warning for Theresa May

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit seems to be a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.