Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Cameron's absurd behaviour over EU membership (Guardian)

Placing a question mark over Britain's European Union membership and its benefits is economically disastrous, says Peter Mandelson

2. US joins misguided pursuit of austerity (Financial Times)

Governments have pushed themselves into a corner where austerity is the default choice, writes Wolfgang Münchau.

3. The PM should have more respect for Ukip (Daily Telegraph)

It is counterproductive for Cameron to mock voters who don’t want a Miliband government, argues Paul Goodman.

4. The Tories intend going on and on. Labour needs a radical alternative (Independent)

A Tory government at a time of economic crisis is a national tragedy, says Owen Jones. Cameron’s hopes of another term must be destroyed.

5. Tea Party’s moment of maximum leverage (Financial Times)

The question is whether they dive into their own political abyss in unison or in pieces, says Edward Luce.

6. What a relief! The madness of child benefit for all ends today (Daily Telegraph)

It makes no sense for the affluent middle classes to be showered with taxpayers’ cash, says Boris Johnson.

7. There is no soft option for our leaders now (Times) (£)

Cameron and Clegg should tell us that austerity is a necessary evil, writes Tim Montgomerie. Just look at the French ‘alternative’.

8. The Tory crisis that's keeping Balls smirking (Daily Mail)

The Conservatives can’t find a candidate to stand against Ed Balls at the next election, writes Andrew Pierce.

9. Westminster and welfare: the politics of 'them and us' (Guardian)

Over the second half of this parliament, ministers will have a hard time keeping up an increasingly false distinction, says a Guardian editorial.

10. We are wallowing in Labour’s debt so why is Ed blocking cuts? (Sun)

As long as Miliband continues to stay silent on how to cut his government’s debt, he has no right to suggest voters must spend more, writes Trevor Kavanagh.

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As the strangers approach the bed, I wonder if this could be a moment of great gentleness

I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do.

It’s 1.13am on an autumn morning some time towards the end of the 20th century and I’m awake in a vast hotel bed in a small town in the east of England. The mysterious east, with its horizons that seem to stretch further than they should be allowed to stretch by law. I can’t sleep. My asthma is bad and I’m wheezing. The clock I bought for £3 many years earlier ticks my life away with its long, slow music. The street light outside makes the room glow and shimmer.

I can hear footsteps coming down the corridor – some returning drunks, I guess, wrecked on the reef of a night on the town. I gaze at the ceiling, waiting for the footsteps to pass.

They don’t pass. They stop outside my door. I can hear whispering and suppressed laughter. My clock ticks. I hear a key card being presented, then withdrawn. The door opens slowly, creaking like a door on a Radio 4 play might. The whispering susurrates like leaves on a tree.

It’s an odd intrusion, this, as though somebody is clambering into your shirt, taking their time. A hotel room is your space, your personal kingdom. I’ve thrown my socks on the floor and my toothbrush is almost bald in the bathroom even though there’s a new one in my bag because I thought I would be alone in my intimacy.

Two figures enter. A man and a woman make their way towards the bed. In the half-dark, I can recognise the man as the one who checked me in earlier. He says, “It’s all right, there’s nobody in here,” and the woman laughs like he has just told her a joke.

This is a moment. I feel like I’m in a film. It’s not like being burgled because this isn’t my house and I’m sure they don’t mean me any harm. In fact, they mean each other the opposite.

Surely they can hear my clock dripping seconds? Surely they can hear me wheezing?

They approach, closer and closer, towards the bed. The room isn’t huge but it seems to be taking them ages to cross it. I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do. I should speak. I should say with authority, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” But I don’t.

I could just lie here, as still as a book, and let them get in. It could be a moment of great gentleness, a moment between strangers. I would be like a chubby, wheezing Yorkshire pillow between them. I could be a metaphor for something timeless and unspoken.

They get closer. The woman reaches her hand across the bed and she touches the man’s hand in a gesture of tenderness so fragile that it almost makes me sob.

I sit up and shout, “Bugger off!” and they turn and run, almost knocking my clock from the bedside table. The door crashes shut shakily and the room seems to reverberate.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge