CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. An assault on unions is an attack on democracy itself (Guardian)

The Conservatives' attempt to smear the trade unions is an absurd attempt to turn the current crisis of corporate legitimacy into a crisis of union legitimacy, argues Seumas Milne.

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2. Unite doesn't run Labour -- it can't even run itself (Independent)

Meanwhile, the Independent's Steve Richards says the belief that Unite has seized control of the Labour Party ignores the truth: that this is a union which rarely speaks or acts with one voice.

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3. Stand by, and watch 1992 happen all over again (Times)

Next week's Budget is as much a test for the Tories as one for the government, writes Anatole Kaletsky. If David Cameron and George Osborne misjudge their response, they could scupper their chances in the same way as Neil Kinnock and John Smith destroyed Labour's in 1992.

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4. The buccaneering spirit will prevail (Daily Telegraph)

Cameron's fighting performance this week has put Labour on the back foot again, writes Benedict Brogan. A free-flowing campaign focused on the party leaders could prove Gordon Brown's undoing.

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5. This Lib Dem myth (Guardian)

The belief that left-leaning voters will feel happier in the Liberal Democrats ignores the party's rightward shift, argues Tim Horton. Nick Clegg's tax plans would give more to the affluent middle classes than to the poorest.

6. Obama won't restrain Israel -- he can't (Independent)

Given the strength of the Israel lobby and Washington's strategic relationship with Tel Aviv, Barack Obama has no hope of preventing Binyamin Netanyahu's illegal settlement expansion, says Rupert Cornwell.

7. Poverty blights the dream of Hong Kong (Financial Times)

The territory's tradition of small government and belief in the free market has left it with the worst income inequality in Asia, writes David Pilling.

8. Why do the Tories want to be the heirs to Blair? (Daily Mail)

The Tories will not succeed by trying to ape Tony Blair, writes Stephen Glover. The public no longer shares their infatuation with the former prime minister.

9. Needed: a peaceful anti-Netanyahu uprising (Times)

Malcolm Rifkind argues that Israel needs a peaceful, democratic revolution to re-create a government with a genuine commitment to a two-state solution.

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10. A messiah can't do it. To reshape the world, the US must first reform itself (Guardian)

The biggest problem for American foreign policy is a conservative Congress, writes Timothy Garton Ash. If Obama's foreign policy is to prove effective, he must reform political finance and curb the lobbyists.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.