Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Biden and McConnell's self-congratulation is unjustified (Guardian)

The fiscal cliff agreement is a jerry-built compromise that neither deals with the slump nor faces up to the long term, says a Guardian editorial.

2. Make nominal spending the new target (Financial Times)

As long as nominal GDP growth is stable, core inflation will remain well anchored, writes Scott Sumner.

3. Carping Labour must come clean about cuts (Times) (£)

The real divide is between those who offer leadership and those who offer only dissent, says Nick Clegg.

4. Now China's new leaders will have to work hard (Guardian)

How they deal with future economic challenges and the Tibet crisis will test whether the claim to wise meritocracy is credible, says Isabel Hilton.

5. America refuses to face up to reality (Daily Telegraph)

As the powerhouse of the world economy, America cannot continue to live in denial and expect to maintain its dominant role, says a Telegraph leader.

6. Housing is in crisis, yet the coalition does nothing (Guardian)

Scotland is taking the lead in housing the homeless, writes Lynsey Hanley. If only Westminster did likewise.

7. Africa is hooked on growth (Financial Times)

The success is not continent-wide but the best-managed countries are pulling it off, writes Sebastian Mallaby.

8. IDS’s rebirth is one of the wonders of the age (Independent)

Sacked by his party in 2003 on the twin grounds of being preternaturally incompetent and sensationally dim, Duncan Smith has reinvented himself, writes Matthew Norman.

9. The Commonwealth has never been stronger (Daily Telegraph)

This great institution promotes trade and freedom – no wonder there’s a queue to join, writes Hugo Swire.

10. We’re obese for the same reason we’re in debt – we prefer to forget the future (Independent)

Putting off hard tasks and difficult decisions costs humanity dearly, says Christina Patterson.

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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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