Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. George Osborne's optimism disappears in autumn statement (Guardian)

The chancellor's bright-eyed optimism that served as the coalition's defining mission turns to dust in the Commons, writes Jonathan Freedland.

2. Time to use room for manoeuvre (Financial Times)

It is specious for Osborne to blame events beyond government control, says Martin Wolf.

3. We can see clearly on smog. So why not CO2? (Times) (£)

The arguments of climate-change sceptics are eerily reminiscent of those made by opponents of the Clean Air Act, writes David Aaronovitch.

4. Chancellor makes best of bad job (Financial Times)

There may be worse to come but Labour has been left scratching its head, says Janan Ganesh.

5. A seasonal warning on rape? Don't ask a Met policeman (Guardian)

There's nothing here to reduce sex crime or even any admission of officers' failure – just hyper-caution for the yet-to-be-raped, says Zoe Williams.

6. The day the Chancellor reneged on his promise (Daily Telegraph)

Osborne’s fiscal gutlessness in this budget shows a failure to engage with the enormity of the crisis, argues Peter Oborne.

7. Old rivalries stir in Japan and Korea (Financial Times)

The differences in the elections in Asia’s second and fourth-largest economies are striking, writes David Pilling.

8. We may never learn to love the Chancellor, but the alternative would be so much worse (Daily Mail)

Osborne's medicine may be harsh but Ed Balls would be economic poison, says Max Hastings.

9. Phoney war with Syria is better than a real one (Independent)

Signs that Assad might use his chemical weapons could change the rules, says an Independent editorial.

10. A global battle for internet freedom puts Leveson in perspective (Guardian)

There's no reason ethical standards have to slip online, writes Timothy Garton Ash. The real challenge for journalism is how to make the internet pay.

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How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader backed down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while a free would be held, party policy would be changed to oppose military action - an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. In advance of the meeting, Labour released a poll of members (based on an "initial sample" of 1,900) showing that 75 per cent opposed intervention. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, those present made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn ally Diane Abbott argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory" approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. The Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary will now advocate opposing positions from the frontbench when MPs meet, with Corbyn opening and Benn closing. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet (I'm told that my account of that meeting was also raised). There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update on their phones from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

In a statement released following the meeting, a Corbyn spokesperson confirmed that a free vote would be held but made no reference to party policy: 

"Today's Shadow Cabinet agreed to back Jeremy Corbyn's recommendation of a free vote on the Government's proposal to authorise UK bombing in Syria.   

"The Shadow Cabinet decided to support the call for David Cameron to step back from the rush to war and hold a full two day debate in the House of Commons on such a crucial national decision.  

"Shadow Cabinet members agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing: including how it would accelerate a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war; what ground troops would take territory evacuated by ISIS; military co-ordination and strategy; the refugee crisis and the imperative to cut-off of supplies to ISIS."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.