Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Have a happy Christmas – things can only get worse (Guardian)

From local government to health, spending plans show the deepest cuts are yet to come, writes Polly Toynbee. This is bad news for Labour.

2. A case remains for economic liberalism (Financial Times)

The philosophy’s basic tenets hold sound despite the financial crisis, argues Samuel Brittan.

3. The west can’t direct the Arab Spring, but we can support it (Independent)

You can't expect mature politics to be practised in countries like Egypt where political parties have been banned for 50 years, says Adrian Hamilton.

4. British secret agents need protection from lawyers (Daily Telegraph)

We have been too slow at giving our spies vital protection against predatory lawyers, says Fraser Nelson.

5. NHS privatisation fears? Grow up (Guardian)

Competition works, says Ian Birrell. This bizarre, nostalgic prejudice against profits only damages the health service.

6. That speech on Europe ... can we put it off? (Times) (£)

The Prime Minister is in a fix, says Philip Collins. There is nothing sensible he can say about the EU that will also satisfy his backbenchers.

7. America’s fiscal fix could help Britain too (Daily Telegraph)

Flatter taxes are one of the best ideas for raising US revenues – so let’s try them here, says Jeremy Warner.

8. Patten must take the blame for a sorry saga (Daily Mail)

Everyone, according to Lord Patten, was to blame for the BBC’s shortcomings over the Savile and McAlpine scandals but the Trust chairman himself, says a Daily Mail editorial.

9. Britain’s middle class is not just squeezed but deceived (Independent)

The odds have always been weighted against the “little people”, writes Mary Dejevsky. But the disparity in power has grown since the banking crisis.

10. The BBC and bad public sector management (Financial Times)

High pay at public bodies stinks - they have taken the worst practices of the private sector, writes Andrew Hill.

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Who really controls the Labour Party now?

Jeremy Corbyn's allies will struggle to achieve their ambition to remove general secretary Iain McNicol.

Jeremy Corbyn's advance at the general election confirmed his place as Labour leader. Past opponents recognise not only that Corbyn could not be defeated but that he should not be.

They set him the test of winning more seats – and he passed. From a position of strength, Corbyn was able to reward loyalists, rather than critics, in his shadow cabinet reshuffle. 

But what of his wider control over the party? Corbyn allies have restated their long-held ambition to remove Labour general secretary Iain McNicol, and to undermine Tom Watson by creating a new post of female deputy leader (Watson lost the honorific title of "party chair" in the reshuffle, which was awarded to Corbyn ally Ian Lavery).

The departure of McNicol, who was accused of seeking to keep Corbyn off the ballot during the 2016 leadership challenge, would pave the way for the removal of other senior staff at Labour HQ (which has long had an acrimonious relationship with the leader's office). 

These ambitions are likely to remain just that. But Labour figures emphasise that McNicol will remain general secretary as long he retains the support of the GMB union (of which he is a former political officer) and that no staff members can be removed without his approval.

On the party's ruling National Executive Committee, non-Corbynites retain a majority of two, which will grow to three when Unite loses a seat to Unison (now Labour's biggest affiliate). As before, this will continue to act as a barrier to potential rule changes.

The so-called "McDonnell amendment", which would reduce the threshold for Labour leadership nominations from 15 per cent of MPs to 5 per cent, is still due to be tabled at this year's party conference, but is not expected to pass. After the election result, however, Corbyn allies are confident that a left successor would be able to make the ballot under the existing rules. 

But Labour's gains (which surprised even those close to the leader) have reduced the urgency to identify an heir. The instability of Theresa May's government means that the party is on a permanent campaign footing (Corbyn himself expects another election this year). For now, Tory disunity will act as a force for Labour unity. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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