CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. Forget protecting pensioner benefits. We need to prioritise real hardship (Guardian)

Older people in Britain have never been so well off, says Peter Wilby: because of their voting power, politicians are scared to upset them.

2. Resignation is not an option for the Pope (Times)

It is Benedict XVI's duty to implement worldwide the reforms already made by Catholic leaders in Britain, says William Rees-Mogg. But he cannot resign -- the last time a pope did so was in the year 1415. A resignation under pressure would not be the Church's last.

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3. Obama throws out the political rules (Financial Times)

Clive Crook discusses the passing of the US health-care bill. Elated Democrats feel they have the upper hand, but now they need to get the public behind what they have done.

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4. Parliament's wash-up's a stitch-up (Guardian)

Martin Bell argues that due democratic process is lost in the secretive pre-election horse-trading to decide which bills will survive. Electoral reform is a potential casualty.

5. Shock, horror . . . America places its own interests first (Independent)

Bruce Anderson says there is only one certainty in foreign policy: that there will be regular proclamations of the death of the special relationship, but the hearse will never arrive.

6. The special relationship has been a myth for decades (Times)

Anthony Eden wondered whether we should have taken a leaf from de Gaulle's book and treated the Americans mean to keep them keen. Better late than never, says John Charmley.

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7. Refugees for settlers is the way forward for Israel (Financial Times)

Israel is unlikely to abandon the Jewish settlements, writes Eugene Rogan. The only way forward is to put a real price on settlements that might make the Israeli government pause before expanding them -- giving right of return to Palestinian refugees.

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8. A rate for the rich (Guardian)

Twenty years after the poll-tax riots, John Andrew argues that reform is needed for council tax that benefits the wealthy. The longer the tax stays unreformed, the more unfair it will become.

9. Europe has resolved nothing over Greece (Financial Times)

Last Thursday's agreement sounded significant, says Wolfgang Münchau, but the deal was mostly smoke and mirrors -- it is hard to imagine even a hypothetical scenario in which the European Union would disburse the emergency aid.

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10. This is one utopian vision that need not be so far from reality (Independent)

Charles Leadbeater of the Young Foundation makes the case for greater citizen engagement, to create a high-energy politics based on constitutional convention which could replace the exhausted parliamentary system.

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Commons Confidential: What happened at Tom Watson's birthday party?

Finances, fair and foul – and why Keir Starmer is doing the time warp.

Keir Starmer’s comrades mutter that a London seat is an albatross around the neck of the ambitious shadow Brexit secretary. He has a decent political CV: he was named after Labour’s first MP, Keir Hardie; he has a working-class background; he was the legal champion of the McLibel Two; he had a stint as director of public prosecutions. The knighthood is trickier, which is presumably why he rarely uses the title.

The consensus is that Labour will seek a leader from the north or the Midlands when Islington’s Jeremy Corbyn jumps or is pushed under a bus. Starmer, a highly rated frontbencher, is phlegmatic as he navigates the treacherous Brexit waters. “I keep hoping we wake up and it’s January 2016,” he told a Westminster gathering, “and we can have another run. Don’t we all?” Perhaps not everybody. Labour Remoaners grumble that Corbyn and particularly John McDonnell sound increasingly Brexitastic.

To Tom Watson’s 50th birthday bash at the Rivoli Ballroom in south London, an intact 1950s barrel-vaulted hall generous with the velvet. Ed Balls choreographed the “Gangnam Style” moves, and the Brockley venue hadn’t welcomed so many politicos since Tony Blair’s final Clause IV rally 22 years ago. Corbyn was uninvited, as the boogying deputy leader put the “party” back into the Labour Party. The thirsty guests slurped the free bar, repaying Watson for 30 years of failing to buy a drink.

One of Westminster’s dining rooms was booked for a “Decent Chaps Lunch” by Labour’s Warley warrior, John Spellar. In another room, the Tory peer David Willetts hosted a Christmas reception on behalf of the National Centre for Universities and Business. In mid-January. That’s either very tardy or very, very early.

The Labour Party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, is a financial maestro, having cleared the £25m debt that the party inherited from the Blair-Brown era. Now I hear that he has squirrelled away a £6m war chest as insurance against Theresa May gambling on an early election. Wisely, the party isn’t relying on Momentum’s fractious footsloggers.

The word in Strangers’ Bar is that the Welsh MP Stephen Kinnock held his own £200-a-head fundraiser in London. Either the financial future of the Aberavon Labour Party is assured, or he fancies a tilt at the top job.

Dry January helped me recall a Labour frontbencher explaining why he never goes into the Commons chamber after a skinful: “I was sitting alongside a colleague clearly refreshed by a liquid lunch. He intervened and made a perfectly sensible point without slurring. Unfortunately, he stood up 20 minutes later and repeated the same point, word for word.”

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era