Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Will Ed Miliband be an Obama or an Hollande?  (Guardian)

The Labour party leader faces a choice he's still not made: to keep ambitions modest, or to offer a genuinely radical vision , says Jonathan Freedland.

2. Why Eastleigh could soon turn beastly  (Daily Telegraph)

As campaigning begins for the parliamentary seat vacated by Chris Huhne, Tory minders try to control their outspoken candidate, Maria Hutchings , write Neil Tweedie and Peter Dominiczak.

3. Why we all love Attenborough  (Independent)

There are people in whose company, because of a million tiny signals, we quickly feel at ease; I would submit that Attenborough has that effect on the whole nation, says Michael McCarthy.

4. This nasty virus could kill off press freedom (Times) (£)

Lord Puttnam has led a sneak attack to sabotage the Defamation Bill and get statutory regulation by the back door, says Matthew Parris.

5. Europe can walk as well as talk  (Financial Times)

A week of hard-won bargains shows the EU is working, says this FT editorial.

6. Whoever wins in Eastleigh, the coalition will lose  (Guardian)

The Eastleigh byelection will highlight the fact that there is no way of knowing if the public support the coalition, says Vernon Bogdanor.

7. Stafford scandal: Let’s face the truth about our uncaring, selfish and cruel NHS  (Daily Telegraph)

We don’t want any Mid Staffs 'scapegoats’ – just the people who are actually to blame, says Charles Moore.

8. RIP landline, you’ll cold-call me no longer (Times)

We’ve got e-mail, G-chat, Twitter and text. The curly-tailed monster in the hallway has had its day, writes Janice Turner.

9. The Wizard of Oz: Cameron's controversial campaign strategist grants a rare interview  (Independent)

Since Lynton Crosby was named as David Cameron's new campaign expert last autumn, speculation has been rife as to what his methods will do for British politics. Paola Totaro is granted a rare interview with the man Boris Johnson (a client) calls the Wizard of Oz.

The prime minister must confront his party with the truth, says the FT.

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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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