Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The Thick of Mitt (Daily Telegraph)

Even before a candidate gets through the door of the undecided, he has to pass a basic competence test, says Alastair Campbell.

2. George's freeze wheeze (Guardian)

Osborne's proposed benefits freeze incorporates choices which betray cold indifference to hardship, says a Guardian editorial.

3. Bernanke makes an historic choice (Financial Times)

The Fed is correct in its decision to err on the side of expansion, says Martin Wolf.

4. The British are having more babies. Let's start planning for it. (Independent)

Rising fertility rates point the way to future economic growth - we need a large population to help support the elderly and bring down national debt, writes Hamish McRae.

5. If we don’t cut the deficit now, when will we? (Times) (£)

Politics is about seizing the moment, writes Daniel Finkelstein. If the government loosens its fiscal policy it will never tighten it again.

6. The politicians trying to preserve national dignity at the cost of lives in Afghanistan (Daily Mail)

All that matters now is to get British forces home as soon as can be contrived, says Max Hastings.

7. Time for a free vote on gay marriage (Independent)

There are no more excuses for not pushing ahead with gay marriage, says an Independent editorial.

8. Romney rescue plan – Cut the accountancy (Financial Times)

The governor can win if he ventures out of his comfort zone and moves beyond Republican orthodoxies, says Lloyd Green.

9. It's judicial machismo that jails women like Sarah Catt (Guardian)

The harm done to society by needlessly sending women to prison far outweighs their crime: in this, Britain is medieval, argues Simon Jenkins.

10. 'Green on Blue’ attacks must not deter us (Daily Telegraph)

A good relationship with the Afghan army is crucial to our success, says Lt Col Charlie Maconochie.

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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.