Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. A sinister new twist in the Mitchell saga (Daily Telegraph)

It beggars belief that an officer has been arrested on suspicion of leaking details of the Mitchell incident to the press, says a Telegraph editorial.

2. Bloomberg shows the way on gun control (Financial Times)

Even after Newtown, it is unrealistic to expect comprehensive legislation, writes Jacob Weisberg.

3. 100% arts funding cut? This Newcastle budget is an act of vandalism (Guardian)

The Labour council's move is a political game intended to shame the coalition – and will wipe out the regional capital's culture, says Lee Hall.

4. No magic solution to human rights quandary (Daily Telegraph)

The law-makers, not the likes of Abu Qatada, are the greatest threat to our liberties, says Mary Riddell.

5. Bernanke – the rebel with a cause (Financial Times)

The Fed chairman’s move to target lower unemployment is genuinely radical, says Sebastian Mallaby.

6. Time for a full review of the needs of the elderly (Independent)

Responses to demographic change have been piecemeal and badly co-ordinated, says an Independent leader.

7. Britain shames itself by detaining immigrants indefinitely (Guardian)

The most incredible element of the UK's policy of indefinite detention is how routine it is, says Ellie Mae O'Hagan. What a sad reflection of our country.

8. The toughest question for Cameron come 2015: how to solve a problem like Ukip? (Independent)

The Prime Minister can no longer ignore Nigel Farage and his party, writes Matthew Norman.

9. Italy doesn’t need this clown – or Berlusconi (Times) (£)

The threatened return of the bunga-bunga warrior is only one part of the country’s refusal to face harsh reality, says Bill Emmott.


10. Why Europe will bounce back in 2013 (Financial Times)

Europe’s woes have echoes of an east Asian crisis, says Ruchir Sharma.

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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.