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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.