Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. America on the edge of a 'fiscal cliff'? No, it's the right peddling scare stories (Guardian)

The economic abyss is a distortion peddled by the US right and Obama's Democrats – just like Britain's left – need to counter the myth, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

2. The BBC can be brilliant - despite its shambolic army of suits and bean-counters (Daily Mail)

The corporation worked much better when it was much smaller, as it should now become again, writes Max Hastings.

3. Obama proves you can win in tough times (Times) (£)

On both sides of the Atlantic, voters want economic toughness and social liberalism, says George Osborne.

4. Police commissioner elections: hardly The Wire, but they still really matter (Guardian)

Not voting for a police and crime commissioner on Thursday means turning your back on the frightened and vulnerable, says Gaby Hinsliff.

5. The downfall of David Petraeus may be a blessing in disguise (Independent)

Obama now has more freedom to exert his will in the military sphere, writes Mary Dejevsky.

6. Let the public run our national broadcaster (Daily Telegraph)

The BBC can weather this storm if we eradicate its culture of moral smugness, says Tessa Jowell.

7. China and US navigate in risky waters (Financial Times)

The narrowing of the power gap between the two countries is already raising tensions, writes Gideon Rachman.

8. Osborne needs to show a little love to the squeezed middle (Daily Telegraph)

Reforming the 40p tax rate would reward those who have borne the brunt of austerity, writes Benedict Brogan.

9. Only when the BBC decides what it is for will it be able to regain trust (Independent)

The failures of Newsnight have nothing to do with budget cuts, writes Dominic Lawson. Even the least well-funded local newspaper would have done better than this.

10. Investigative journalism must live on despite the Newsnight crisis (Guardian)

The world would be a worse place without investigative journalism, but lack of funding is a real danger for this craft, writes David Leigh.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.