Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Can Ed Miliband find an antidote to the politics of fear and loathing? (Daily Telegraph)

The blood spilt in Arizona is a grim reminder of what can happen when the voters lose faith, writes Mary Riddell.

2. Bed of roses? Or sleeping with the enemy? (Times) (£)

Listing their hits, pitching their policies, the Lib Dems are drifting away. Rachel Sylvester argues that Oldham could be the tipping point.

3. So, Simon Hughes, what would it take for you to walk away? (Guardian)

After a heated row with Hughes on the telephone, Polly Toynbee is still mystified why he defends coalition policy.

4. Labour's profligacy is a myth that Miliband must debunk (Independent)

Cameron, Osborne and Clegg have placed their every move in the context of an apparently bleak inheritance. Steve Richards argues that Labour must counter this myth.

5. Paranoia disfigures the Tea Party (Financial Times)

Gideon Rachman suggests that the radical right has fuelled the rage and paranoia of US political debate.

6. A new opening in Afghanistan's theatre of war (Times) (£)

Ben Macintyre discusses a fringe play, transferring from London to the Pentagon, which will teach soldiers that their enemy's history is their own.

7. The rich will reap none of the pain and all of the gain of Kenneth Clarke's legal aid cuts (Guardian)

To understand the government's phoney war on fat-cat lawyers, don't just look at the victims, says George Monbiot – look at the beneficiaries.

8. A Pakistan in mourning will not be silenced (Financial Times)

Those who have sounded the death knell for liberalism have been too hasty, writes Fatima Bhutto.

9. We're sorry, but Heathrow did all it could (Times) (£)

Airports everywhere were hit by snow, says Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA – but he promises that the lessons of December's disruption will be learned.

10. The fallacy of Osbornomics (Guardian)

John Ross points out that the Tories claim deficit reduction is the urgent task when it was already falling without cuts in public spending.

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Autumn Statement 2015: a test of competence as well as compassion

George Osborne's chickens may be coming home to roost.

The debate will be political and polarized, as you’d expect, when the Chancellor sets out the results of the Spending Review tomorrow and how his £20bn of savings will be realised. However my suspicion is that while many followers of the Westminster's circus are debating what it all means for compassionate or compassionless conservatism, the public will be more interested in a more straightforward question: one of competence. 

Strip away the hyperbole and the election in May was won on an assessment of which party was the more competent to govern. A huge part of the public’s judgment in this regard was to trust the track record of the Conservatives in balancing the books and that the £20bn in departmental savings earmarked was a reasonable and responsible ambition. 

This is the question in point because what the public did not endorse explicitly was significant change in the size and role of the state. The argument was made and won for a budget surplus, not necessarily for its consequences. As Paul Johnson of the IFS has been at pains to say after every recent budget.

We should acknowledge that one of the reasons the Chancellor does have the public’s confidence is that the cuts to public services so far have not been as damaging as many opponents predicted. The NHS is under-strain, but has not broken. Hard pushed local government leaders have managed to shield social care from the worst of the changes, and the majority of police officers lost were in the back-office not on the beat. So when pollsters ask the public whether they have noticed the effects of austerity, most say they haven't. 

Understanding what the implications are of further large reductions in areas in the firing line such as police forces or local government is hard to do. So the government has told the public "trust us". Now we are going to find out how well that trust was placed. The point is this though - if the public haven't yet felt the full affects of a smaller state they may not be so tolerant it if they do. That brings us to the Chancellor’s real test. The easy cuts have surely been made, after the long years of spending increases prior to 2010 you would expect the system to be able to tighten its belt. But with five years of austerity under that belt there is a risk that the additional cuts could push services too far. 

The public were told that £20bn of saving could be achieved without the kind of pain that will be felt if social care for the elderly really starts to fall over, if police officers become significantly more scarce, or if the NHS does need much more than the promised £8bn (as many believe it will). On this point they have trusted the Chancellor to understand the implications of what he is promising. So if the policy choices in the Spending Review turn out to show that he did not, it will be the Government's competence as much as its compassion that will concern the public.


Steve O'Neill was deputy head of policy for the Liberal Democrats until the election.