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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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR