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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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.