Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Only a merger with the Tories will save most Liberal Democrat MPs (Daily Telegraph)

A merger between the Tories and the Lib Dems is increasingly likely, writes Fraser Nelson. Yet, to most Tory MPs, the idea is anathema.

2. For Labour, moral outrage is not enough (Guardian)

Just shouting more loudly about every cut risks confining Labour to comfortable irrelevance, says Douglas Alexander.

3. Go on, Mr Cameron. Dare to be an optimist (Times) (£)

Smarter children, longer lives, less crime: the "politics of optimism" could transform Britain, argues Anthony Seldon.

4. Ken Clarke says prison doesn't work. Little wonder when they're holiday camps like this one (Daily Mail)

The inmates at Ford Open Prison have been indulged by the authorities, says Stephen Glover.

5. Liberalism still has a place in penal policy (Independent)

But elsewhere, an Independent leader argues that the riot should not be used as an excuse by the coalition to revert to counterproductive policies.

6. Pungent, angry and decisive: Margaret Thatcher still dominates the Tory party (Guardian)

Conservative rebels, who still regard Cameron as a fake, see Thatcher as their spiritual leader, writes Jackie Ashley.

7. Remembering an unsung heroine of our modern history (Independent)

The workers' rights activist Jayaben Desa must be honoured by those of us who knew her, says Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

8. Parking fees that put the boot into business (Daily Telegraph)

Shoppers will be driven out of town if asked to pay more to park their cars, argues Philip Johnston.

9. Why sequels will not come first this year (Guardian)

Films such as The King's Speech and 127 Hours suggest that cinema has a bright future, writes Mark Lawson.

10. Heads have to consider the majority of pupils (Daily Telegraph)

British schools must have the wherewithal to deal with unruly pupils properly, argues a Daily Telegraph leader.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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.

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