CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. Revealed: the great scandal no one's noticed (Times)

Daniel Finkelstein criticises Gordon Brown's refusal to announce a spending review in bad times -- a cynical move, given the political potency.

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2. Chancellors can't do that much (Independent)

Hamish McRae maintains that Budgets matter for what they do to public finances, not what they do to the economy. In the short and medium term, all governments have to work with the economy as it is.

3. Today the tooth fairy turns cuts into efficiency savings (Guardian)

Efficiency savings have become the ultimate political get-out-of-jail-free card to liberate us from a £175bn deficit, writes Simon Jenkins, but if things were that easy, they would have happened.

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4. Israel must sack the head of Mossad for this grave insult to Britain (Daily Telegraph)

Con Coughlin says that the Foreign Office decision to expel an important Israeli diplomat is bad for Anglo-Israeli relations, but the blame lies squarely with Israel for the cavalier way in which it abused the passports of a friendly country.

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5. There's a charming symmetry to the latest New Labour scandal (Independent)

Matthew Norman recalls that Labour's arrival in power was marked by the party trousering a million from Bernie Ecclestone in return for changing policy. As such, there is symmetry in the way the lobbying scandal today may help hasten its departure.

6. Let us hear about political women, not politicians' wives (Guardian)

Most voters know more than they want to about Samantha Cameron or Sarah Brown, writes Anne Perkins -- but the belief still lingers that, for women at least, family and a political career are mutually exclusive.

7. Running the country shouldn't be child's play (Times)

Taking a different tack is Alice Thomson, who asks whether we really want sleep-deprived parents -- male or female -- taking decisions that affect 60 million of us.

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8. Google row reveals China's dictatorial attitude (Daily Telegraph)

China's centrally dictated, totalitarian approach to capitalism is fundamentally at odds with the liberal, democratic free-market tradition that exists in America, says Jeremy Warner.

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9. As Biko knew, powerlessness in actual lives is the hurdle justice must clear (Guardian)

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen argues that the state must ensure not only that individual freedoms exist, but that everyone has the ability to experience them.

10. Ethiopia: an aid success story or a tyranny? (Times)

Our money is eradicating poverty, says Camilla Cavendish, discussing the BBC's allegations about Ethiopian aid. But this money may also be used to prop up a repressive regime.

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Over a Martini with my mother, I decide I'd rather not talk Brexit

A drink with her reduces me to a nine-year-old boy recounting his cricketing triumphs.

To the Royal Academy with my mother. As well as being a very competent (ex-professional, on Broadway) singer, she is a talented artist, and has a good critical eye, albeit one more tolerant of the brighter shades of the spectrum than mine. I love the RA’s summer exhibition: it offers one the chance to be effortlessly superior about three times a minute.

“Goddammit,” she says, in her finest New York accent, after standing in front of a particularly wretched daub. The tone is one of some vexation: not quite locking-yourself-out-of-the-house vexed, but remembering-you’ve-left-your-wallet-behind-a-hundred-yards-from-the-house vexed. This helps us sort out at least one of the problems she has been facing since widowhood: she is going to get cracking with the painting again, and I am going to supply the titles.

I am not sure I have the satirical chops or shamelessness to come up with anything as dreadful as Dancing With the Dead in My Dreams (artwork number 688, something that would have shown a disturbing kind of promise if executed by an eight-year-old), or The End From: One Day This Glass Will Break (number 521; not too bad, actually), but we work out that if she does reasonably OK prints and charges £500 a pop for each plus £1,000 for the original – this being at the lower end of the price scale – then she’ll be able to come out well up on the deal. (The other solution to her loneliness: get a cat, and perhaps we are nudged in this direction by an amusing video installation of a cat drinking milk from a saucer which attracts an indulgent, medium-sized crowd.)

We wonder where to go for lunch. As a sizeable quantity of the art there seems to hark back to the 1960s in general, and the style of the film Yellow Submarine in particular, I suggest Langan’s Brasserie, which neither of us has been to for years. We order our customary Martinis. Well, she does, while I go through a silly monologue that runs: “I don’t think I’ll have a Martini, I have to write my column this afternoon, oh sod it, I’ll have a Martini.”

“So,” she says as they arrive, “how has life been treating you?”

Good question. How, indeed, has life been treating me? Most oddly, I have to say. These are strange times we live in, a bit strange even for me, and if we wake up on 24 June to find ourselves no longer in Europe and with Nigel Farage’s toadlike mug gurning at us from every newspaper in the land, then I’m off to Scotland, or the US, or at least strongly thinking about it. Not even Hunter S Thompson’s mantra – “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – will be enough to arm myself with, I fear.

The heart has been taking something of a pummelling, as close readers of this column may have gathered, but there is nothing like finding out that the person you fear you might be losing it to is probably going to vote Brexit to clear up that potential mess in a hurry. The heart may be stupid, but there are some things that will shake even that organ from its reverie. However, operating on a need-to-know basis, I feel my mother can do without this information, and I find myself talking about the cricket match I played on Sunday, the first half of which was spent standing watching our team get clouted out of the park, in rain not quite strong enough to take us off the field, but certainly strong enough to make us wet.

“Show me the way to go home,” I sang quietly to myself, “I’m tired and I want to go to bed,” etc. The second half of it, though, was spent first watching an astonishing, even by our standards, batting collapse, then going in at number seven . . . and making the top score for our team. OK, that score was 12, but still, it was the top score for our team, dammit.

The inner glow and sense of bien-être that this imparted on Sunday persists three days later as I write. And as I tell my mother the story – she has now lived long enough in this country, and absorbed enough of the game by osmosis, to know that 17 for five is a pretty piss-poor score – I realise I might as well be nine years old, and telling her of my successes on the pitch. Only, when I was nine, I had no such successes under my belt.

With age comes fearlessness: I don’t worry about the hard ball coming at me. Why should I? I’ve got a bloody bat, gloves, pads, the lot. The only things that scare me now are, as usual, dying alone, that jackanapes Farage, and bad art. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain