Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Lost illusions on Europe (Financial Times)

Britain needs to adopt a hard-headed approach founded on the national interest – and hold a referendum, says an FT editorial.

2. Nothing in British politics is harder than welfare reform. The dogfight over it is a distraction (Independent)

The goal of delivering a fair, affordable welfare seems as distant as ever, writes Steve Richards.

3. How to follow the public money in a privatised NHS (Guardian)

Without basic financial transparency from public service contractors we can say goodbye to democratic accountability, writes Zoe Williams.

4. Losing one Lord a-leaping is unfortunate. Losing three at once should make Mr Cameron very worried indeed (Daily Mail)

The chances of the coalition fracturing completely are now perhaps higher than ever, says Simon Heffer.

5. Welfare cuts may bite the UK government (Financial Times)

When incomes rise and the Treasury refuses to raise social security, everyone will complain, says Chris Giles.

6. Europe’s dogmatic ruling class remains wedded to its folly (Daily Telegraph)

Proclamations of the euro’s salvation owe more to ideology than to the facts, says Peter Oborne.

7. Is the millennium’s biggest ego trip over? (Times) (£)

The left fête him as an anti-capitalist, anti-American saviour, but Hugo Chávez is just a strutting narcissist, says David Aaronovitch.

8. Don't dismiss privatised classes (Independent)

In education as in probation, public services must be about practicality not ideology, says an Independent editorial.

9. Tinker, tailor, soldier... and a central banker (Daily Telegraph)

The Treasury’s cloak-and-dagger interviews are hardly an advert for open government, writes Sue Cameron.

10. US energy: state of (semi-) independence (Guardian)

The relationships that America has with the rest of the world are bound to change both in scale and in intensity, says a Guardian editorial.

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Emily Thornberry heckled by Labour MPs as tensions over Trident erupt

Shadow defence secretary's performance at PLP meeting described as "risible" and "cringeworthy". 

"There's no point trying to shout me down" shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry declared midway through tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. Even by recent standards, the 70-minute gathering was remarkably fractious (with PLP chair John Cryer at one point threatening to halt it). Addressing MPs and peers for the first time since replacing Maria Eagle, Thornberry's performance did nothing to reassure Trident supporters. 

The Islington South MP, who voted against renewal in 2007, said that the defence review would be "wide-ranging" and did not take a position on the nuclear question (though she emphasised it was right to "question" renewal). She vowed to listen to colleagues as well as taking "expert advice" and promised to soon visit the Barrow construction site. But MPs' anger was remorseless. Former shadow defence minister Kevan Jones was one of the first to emerge from Committee Room 14. "Waffly and incoherent, cringeworthy" was his verdict. Another Labour MP told me: "Risible. Appalling. She compared Trident to patrolling the skies with spitfires ... It was embarrassing." A party source said afterwards that Thornberry's "spitfire" remark was merely an observation on changing technology. 

"She was talking originally in that whole section about drones. She'd been talking to some people about drones and it was apparent that it was absolutely possible, with improving technology, that large submarines could easily be tracked, detected and attacked by drones. She said it is a question of keeping your eye on new technology ... We don't have the spitfires of the 21st century but we do have some quite old planes, Tornadoes, but they've been updated with modern technology and modern weaponry." 

Former first sea lord and security minister Alan West complained, however, that she had failed to understand how nuclear submarines worked. "Physics, basic physics!" he cried as he left. Asked how the meeting went, Neil Kinnock, who as leader reversed Labour's unilateralist position in 1989, simply let out a belly laugh. Thornberry herself stoically insisted that it went "alright". But a shadow minister told me: "Emily just evidently hadn't put in the work required to be able to credibly address the PLP - totally humiliated. Not by the noise of the hecklers but by the silence of any defenders, no one speaking up for her." 

Labour has long awaited the Europe split currently unfolding among the Tories. But its divide on Trident is far worse. The majority of its MPs are opposed to unilateral disarmament and just seven of the shadow cabinet's 31 members share Jeremy Corbyn's position. While Labour MPs will be given a free vote when the Commons votes on Trident renewal later this year (a fait accompli), the real battle is to determine the party's manifesto stance. 

Thornberry will tomorrow address the shadow cabinet and, for the first time this year, Corbyn will attend the next PLP meeting on 22 February. Both will have to contend with a divide which appears unbridgeable. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.