Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's newspapers

1. The Liberal Democrats are not for sale (Times)

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, joins in the pre-election cacophony, hitting back at speculation to say that if there is a hung parliament there will be no under-the-counter deal with either big party.

2. And the first-round winner is . . . Clegg (Independent)

Meanwhile, at the Independent, Steve Richards says that, as the election fight opens, Clegg is finally being taken seriously by David Cameron and Gordon Brown.

3. Come off it, Dr Cameron (Guardian)

Productivity matters more than cutting bureaucracy, says John Appleby, discussing the Conservatives' NHS plans. And there's a problem with the changes the Tories have pledged: they've happened already.

4. America is losing the free world (Financial Times)

Gideon Rachman argues that developing democracies such as India and Brazil may be alienated by US foreign policy, and be more likely to line up with authoritarian powers such as China and Iran.

5. For Caesar and Cicero, read Ed Balls and Peter Mandelson (Times)

Rachel Sylvester discusses the power struggle between Ed Balls and Peter Mandelson on how best to approach Labour's election campaign, and the resulting incoherence.

6. David Cameron's lone-star strategy gives Gordon Brown a glimmer of hope (Daily Telegraph)

Yesterday's poster of David Cameron confirms the Tories' emphasis on a lone political hero, says Mary Riddell. But political times could be changing -- is this a risky strategy?

7. Help Yemen, not its government (Guardian)

Al-Qaeda is the least of Yemen's problems, says Brian Whitaker. The country needs aid, but propping up its ailing regime will only perpetuate the situation.

8. Profiling air passengers could make terrorist attacks easier (Independent)

Talal Rajab explains that Islam is not ethnically or geographically centred, and nor is terrorism. This, and the fact that many converts have been involved in terrorist plots, makes it impossible to profile people by religion accurately.

9. Refocus the regulatory debate on essentials (Financial Times)

Regulations and laws to stabilise the financial system must deal with the root causes of today's critical difficulties, says Nicholas Brady.

10. After this 60-year feeding frenzy, Earth itself has become disposable (Guardian)

George Monbiot discusses consumerism, saying that it has, as Huxley feared, changed all of us -- we'd rather hop to a brave new world than rein in our spending.

 

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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.