Web Only: the best of the blogs

The five must-read pieces from today, including

1. The strange survival of Labour England

Talk to any Tory, and it's hard to find any who thinks the 2015 election is in the bag, says Fraser Nelson at Coffee House.

2. UK's unemployment record looking less impressive

While other countries are reducing unemployment, Britain's dole queues are lengthening, notes Richard Exell at the Touchstone blog.

3. If Chris Huhne goes to prison the Coalition will suffer

If found guilty Huhne will have caused the coalition more trouble than all the political trickery his colleagues suspect him of, says the Telegraph's Benedict Brogan.

4. In defence of social democracy

Responding to David Miliband's New Statesman essay, Kevin Hickson argues that traditional Labour values are now more relevant than Blairism.

5. Paddy Ashdown's eight steps to winning a Parliamentary constituency

Mark Pack says Paddy Ashdown's 1976 guide to getting elected has stood the test of time.

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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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