Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Be bold, Labour, and expose Osborne's skivers v strivers lie (Guardian)

Osborne's below-inflation benefit rise may not be as popular as he thinks, says Polly Toynbee. Labour can, and must, make the case against.

2. Young lives are being ruined because of our timid Treasury (Daily Telegraph)

Bold tax cuts in Sweden and Estonia show how to tackle austerity – and create growth and jobs, says Fraser Nelson.

3. A reality check for Alex Salmond (Independent)

Far from business-as-usual in its relations with Europe, a go-it-alone Scotland will have to start again from scratch, says an Independent leader.

4. Labour must cut its dependency on welfare (Times) (£)

Miliband's party cannot afford to lose the argument over welfare and the longer it refuses to tackle the problem the more likely such a defeat becomes, says Philip Collins.

5. The west must prepare for Syria’s endgame (Daily Telegraph)

The rebels’ capture of airfields and military bases has speeded up the collapse of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, writes

6. Forget the fiscal cliff: buy America (Financial Times)

The strengths of the US far outweigh its weaknesses even without cheap gas, writes Philip Stephens.

7. The Tories who jeered Ed Balls's stammer are as bad as playground bullies (Independent)

As a fellow stammerer I know this mysterious condition has nothing to do with getting your facts wrong and everything to do with the tricks of uncertain speech, writes Margaret Drabble.

8. Oh, please! Don’t play the victim card, Mr Balls (Daily Mail)

For the nastiest bully in politics to blame his stammer for his Commons disaster is rank hypocrisy, says Quentin Letts.

9. If only saying nothing were an option for William Hague of the FO (Guardian)

As Northern Ireland goes up in flames, our foreign minister still lectures other states on nation-building, writes Simon Jenkins.

10. Stale debate holds back Britain’s recovery (Financial Times)

Partisan bickering could be avoided with a division into three elements, says Samuel Brittan.

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.