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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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.