Morning Call: pick of the papers

Ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

  1. What a difference an A makes to Osborne (Sunday Times)
    No wonder the chancellor’s pallor was even more evident than usual, writes Dominic Lawson.
  2. The BBC rot starts at the top, with the elusive Lord Patten (Sunday Telegraph)
    The chairman emerges smelling of roses, even as he sticks the knife into his juniors, says Peter Oborne.
  3. Revealed: George Osborne's master plan for reviving the UK economy (Observer)
    Tory MPs are agitating for a dramatic budget to transform their party's fortunes. They will be disappointed, writes Andrew Rawnsley.
  4. Only the Tories have a grip on energy (Sunday Telegraph)
    The voters of Eastleigh have a splendid opportunity to send a message that green fundamentalism is unaffordable, says the Sunday Telegraph in a leader column.
  5. In Italy, Illusion Is the Only Reality (New York Times)
    What is never countenanced in Italy is the notion that one has made very serious mistakes, writes Tim Parks.
  6. The harsh lives of the forgotten rural poor (Observer)
    Urban poverty is well documented, but those suffering in the countryside are almost invisible, says Tobias Jones.
  7. Don’t hang the jury, even if it’s hopeless (Sunday Times)
    Any who think the criminal law would be better off without juries should visit countries that have never had them, writes Geoffrey Roberston.
  8. Forget the triple A: It's the NUM (National Union of Ministers) that terrifies George (Mail on Sunday)
    Osborne's main enemy are Tory Ministers who don’t have an ideological objection to more cuts, but simply don’t want to have to make them to their own budgets, writes James Forsythe.
  9. The BBC must hack away the slack (Independent on Sunday)
    After the ghastly revelations of the past months, it's hard to believe the BBC still hasn't learnt the basic rules of PR, says Janet Street Porter.
  10. Libel law of diminishing returns (Sunday Times)
    The unamended Defamation Bill must be passed tomorrow, writes the Sunday Times in a leader article.
Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Leader: Labour is failing. A hard Brexit is looming. But there is no need for fatalism

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit.

Democracy depends on competent opposition. Governments, however well intentioned, require permanent and effective scrutiny to meet the public interest. For this purpose, the role of Her Majesty’s Opposition was enshrined in law 80 years ago. However, at present, and in the week Article 50 is invoked, this constitutional duty is being fulfilled in name alone. (The Scottish National Party speaks only for the Scottish interest.)

Since re-electing Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, the Labour Party has become the weakest opposition in postwar history. It lost the recent Copeland by-election to the Conservatives (a seat the Tories had not held since 1931) and trails the governing party, by up to 19 points, in opinion polls. The Tories feel no pressure from Labour. They confidently predict they will retain power until 2030 or beyond. Yet as the poll tax debacle and the Iraq War demonstrate, prolonged periods of single-party rule run the danger of calamitous results – not least, this time, the break-up of Britain.

Under Mr Corbyn, who formally lost the confidence of 80 per cent of his MPs last summer (and has not regained it), Labour has the least impressive and least qualified front bench in its history. Its enfeeblement has left a void that no party is capable of filling. “The grass-roots social movement of the left that was supposed to arrive in Jeremy Corbyn’s wake has not shown up,” the academic Nick Pearce, a former head of Gordon Brown’s policy unit, writes on page 36.

In these new times, the defining struggle is no longer between parties but within the Conservative Party. As a consequence, many voters have never felt more unrepresented or disempowered. Aided by an increasingly belligerent right-wing press, the Tory Brexiteers are monopolising and poisoning debate: as the novelist Ian McEwan said, “The air in my country is very foul.” Those who do not share their libertarian version of Brexit Britain are impugned as the “enemies” of democracy. Theresa May has a distinctive vision but will the libertarian right allow her the time and space to enact it?

Let us not forget that the Conservatives have a majority of just 15 or that Labour’s problems did not begin with Mr Corbyn’s leadership. However, his divisiveness and unpopularity have accelerated the party’s decline. Although the Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, elected by a fraction of his union membership, loftily pronounced that the Labour leader had 15 months left to prove himself, the country cannot afford to wait that long.

Faced with the opposition’s weakness, some have advocated a “progressive alliance” to take on the Conservatives. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the nationalist parties are urged to set aside their tribalism. Yet it is fantasy to believe that such an alliance would provide stable majority government when nearly four million people voted for Ukip in 2015. There has also been chatter about the creation of a new centrist party – the Democrats, or, as Richard Dawkins writes on page 54, the European Party. Under our first-past-the-post electoral system, however, a new party would risk merely perpetuating the fragmentation of the opposition. If Labour is too weak to win, it is too strong to die.

The UK’s departure from the EU poses fundamental questions about the kind of country we wish to be. For some on the right, Brexit is a Trojan Horse to remake Britain as a low-tax, small-state utopia. Others aspire to a protectionist fortress of closed borders and closed minds. Mr Corbyn was re-elected by a landslide margin last summer. The Leave campaign’s victory was narrower yet similarly decisive. But these events are not an excuse for quietism. Labour must regain its historic role as the party of the labour interest. Labour’s purpose is not to serve the interests of a particular faction but to redress the power of capital for the common good. And it must have a leader capable of winning power.

If Labour’s best and brightest MPs are unwilling to serve in the shadow cabinet, they should use their freedom to challenge an under-scrutinised government and prove their worth. They should build cross-party alliances. They should evolve a transformative policy programme. They should think seriously about why there has been a post-liberal turn in our politics.

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit. At present, the mood on the Labour benches is one of fatalism and passivity. This cannot go on.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition