Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The new cabinet: shuffling to the right (Guardian)

The reshuffle will stir searching questions for the dwindling band of progressives who have until now given this government the benefit of the doubt, says a Guardian editorial.

2. Mr Cameron throws down the gauntlet (Daily Mail)

The biggest question of all is how the new Tory team will fare against entrenched Lib Dem resistance, says a Daily Mail editorial.

3. Obstacles removed. Now get on and govern (Times) (£)

By moving a few big beasts and tweaking the lower ranks, Cameron has created a team more in his own image, writes Daniel Finkelstein.

4. What a reshuffle. It's the return of Brown and Blair (Guardian)

David Cameron can wail, but he is the real ditherer – ever more Tony Blair to George Osborne's Gordon Brown, says Simon Jenkins.

5. Belfast riots are price of poor politics (Independent)

Riots on the streets of Belfast look alarmingly like a return to the bad old days, says an Independent editorial.

6. Memo to ministers – ignore the briefing (Financial Times)

The newcomers need to take a calculated risk and settle on a main priority, writes James Purnell.

7. Hard graft can make Britain great again (Daily Telegraph)

We need to take a long, hard look at the policies that discourage the strivers in our society, says Dominic Raab.

8. Chancellors are supposed to be hated – it's part of their job (Independent)

The general squeeze will not relent, writes Hamish McRae. Finance ministers will be unpopular.

9. Merkel’s good politics and bad economics (Financial Times)

Draghi’s medicine may deliver short-term relief but no long-term cure, writes Josef Joffe.

10. Longer speeches only signal a hard slog ahead (Daily Telegraph)

The first day back at Holyrood suggests there's not much to look forward to this term, writes Alan Cochrane.

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Jeremy Corbyn's opponents are going down a blind alley on tuition fees

The electoral pool they are fishing in is shallow – perhaps even non-existent. 

The press and Labour’s political opponents are hammering Jeremy Corbyn over his party's pledge/ambition/cruel lie to win an election (delete depending on your preference) to not only abolish tuition fees for new students, but to write off the existing debts of those who have already graduated.

Labour has conceded (or restated, again, depending on your preference) that this is merely an “ambition” – that the party had not pledged to wipe out existing tuition fee debt but merely to scrap fees.

The party’s manifesto and the accompanying costings document only included a commitment to scrap the fees of students already in the system. What the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are claiming as a pledge is the following remark, made by Jeremy Corbyn in his Q&A with NME readers:

“First of all, we want to get rid of student fees altogether. We’ll do it as soon as we get in, and we’ll then introduce legislation to ensure that any student going from the 2017-18 academic year will not pay fees. They will pay them, but we’ll rebate them when we’ve got the legislation through – that’s fundamentally the principle behind it. Yes, there is a block of those that currently have a massive debt, and I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that, ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off, or some other means of reducing that debt burden. I don’t have the simple answer for it at this stage – I don’t think anybody would expect me to, because this election was called unexpectedly; we had two weeks to prepare all of this – but I’m very well aware of that problem. And I don’t see why those that had the historical misfortune to be at university during the £9,000 period should be burdened excessively compared to those that went before or those that come after. I will deal with it.”

Is this a promise, an aspiration or a target? The answer probably depends on how you feel about Jeremy Corbyn or fees policy in general. (My reading, for what it’s worth, is that the full quote looks much more like an objective than a promise to my eyes but that the alternative explanation is fair enough, too.)

The more interesting question is whether or not there is an electoral prize to be had, whether from the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats, for hammering Labour on this topic. On that one the answer is open and shut: there really isn’t one.

Why not? Because the evidence is clear: that pledging to abolish tuition fees largely moves two groups of voters: students who have yet to graduate and actually start paying back the fees, and their parents and grandparents, who are worried about the debt burden.

There is not a large caucus of fee-paying graduates – that is, people who have graduated and are earning enough to start paying back their tuition fees – who are opposed to the system. (We don’t have enough evidence but my expectation is that the parents of people who have already graduated are also less fussed. They can see that their children are not crippled by tuition fee debt, which forms a negligible part of a graduate’s tax and living expenses, as opposed to parents who are expecting a worrying future for their children who have yet to graduate.)

Put simply, there isn’t a large group of people aged 21 or above voting for Corbyn who are that concerned about a debt write-off. Of those that are, they tend to have an ideological stance on the value of a higher education system paid for out of general taxation – a stance that makes it much harder for the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats to peel those votes off.

The whole thing is a bit of a blind alley for the parties of the centre and right. The Tory difficulty at this election wasn’t that they did badly among 18-21s, though they did do exceptionally badly. With the exception of the wave year of 1983, they have always tended to do badly with this group. Their problem is that they are doing badly with 30-45s, usually the time in life that some younger Labour voters begin to vote Conservative, largely but not exclusively because they have tended to get on the property ladder.

Nowadays of course, that cohort, particularly in the south of England, is not getting on the property ladder and as a result is not turning blue as it ages. And that’s both a bigger worry and a more lucrative electoral target for Labour’s opponents than litigating an NME interview.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.