Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Miliband's big speeches raise more questions than they answer. Now is the time for policy (Independent)

The temptation to say little is immense, given his poll lead; but voters will ask what he stands for, writes Steve Richards.

2. Lib Dems are having a nervous breakdown (Daily Telegraph)

The coalition’s junior partner started well, but is now a threat to good government, says Peter Oborne.

3. Perils of supermarket cost-cutting machines (Financial Times)

The switching of horsemeat for beef is a spectacular signal that a limit has been reached, says John Gapper.

4. If you're opposed to drones, then think again (Times) (£)

The arguments against them collapse under scrutiny – and they are the most ‘democratic’ weapon ever invented, says Paddy Ashdown.

5. Why I'm standing for Labour in the Eastleigh byelection (Guardian)

Suddenly, I feel really lucky to have an outlet for the profound sense of outrage I feel about this coalition government, writes John O'Farrell.

6. Why the consensual Barack Obama is becoming confrontational (Guardian)

The president knows Republicans aren't going to compromise, but can he get Americans to back him in the coming battle, asks Martin Kettle.

7. Turkey and Europe (Financial Times)

Both sides would benefit from reviving accession talks, says an FT editorial.

8. What's the point of a food safety quango that couldn't save us from eating stallion burgers? (Daily Mail)

 The Food Standards agency is failing miserably in its job of safeguarding the integrity of our food chain, writes Leo McKinstry. 

9. The Woman's Hour list proves that there is nothing soft about real power (Guardian)

A recent rundown of the nation's most powerful women is a painful reminder of the weak state we are in, writes Suzanne Moore. 

10. A President at the very height of his power (Independent)

Obama is confident in his power and visibly liberated by the knowledge that he will never face the voters again, says an Independent editorial.

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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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