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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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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