Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The Pope can quit but it won't erase his complicity in his Church's crimes (Independent)

Letters from Cardinal Ratzinger have emerged in several US court cases, always protective of rapist priests, writes Geoffrey Robertson.

2. Jeremy Hunt's smoke and mirrors will not solve the care crisis (Guardian)

With no useful solution, the government should have left this snake's nest alone, says Polly Toynbee.

3. Horsemeat: Regulation doesn’t taste so bad now, does it? (Independent)

The question is no longer over the FSA’s existence but over whether it is powerful enough, writes Steve Richards.

4. Budget poker: Osborne needs a trump card (Times) (£)

There are rumblings of discontent from all sides as the Chancellor tries to improve on last year’s 'omnishambles', writes Rachel Sylvester.

5. A betrayal of Tory values that shatters the hopes of ordinary families (Daily Mail)

George Osborne had a dream of removing owners of family homes from inheritance tax, writes Stephen Glover. Now, in full possession of his faculties, he has decided to make them pay even more.

6. A rare sighting of good news in Europe (Financial Times)

The gloom that has haunted the region has lifted slightly, writes Gideon Rachman.

7. Why is it the state’s job to pay for our care? (Daily Telegraph)

There’s no 'scandal’ in selling a family home that has benefited from soaring house prices, says Philip Johnston.

8. Obama faces State of the Union test (Financial Times)

It is time for a serious overhaul of the US tax system, says an FT editorial.

9. Benedict, the placeholder pope who leaves a battered, weakened church (Guardian)

As John Paul II's right-hand man, he watched the papacy fall into decrepitude, writes Andrew Brown. He had no wish to follow suit.

10. Inheritance tax freeze proves Osborne is not a master strategist after all (Independent)

The Chancellor's 2007 pledge has been allowed to slip away with barely a murmur, notes an Independent editorial.

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Theresa May defies the right by maintaining 0.7% aid pledge

The Prime Minister offers rare continuity with David Cameron but vows to re-examine how the money is spent. 

From the moment Theresa May became Prime Minister, there was speculation that she would abandon the UK's 0.7 per cent aid pledge. She appointed Priti Patel, a previous opponent of the target, as International Development Secretary and repeatedly refused to extend the commitment beyond this parliament. When an early general election was called, the assumption was that 0.7 per cent would not make the manifesto.

But at a campaign event in her Maidenhead constituency, May announced that it would. "Let’s be clear – the 0.7 per cent commitment remains, and will remain," she said in response to a question from the Daily Telegraph's Kate McCann. But she added: "What we need to do, though, is to look at how that money will be spent, and make sure that we are able to spend that money in the most effective way." May has left open the possibility that the UK could abandon the OECD definition of aid and potentially reclassify defence spending for this purpose.

Yet by maintaining the 0.7 per cent pledge, May has faced down her party's right and title such as the Sun and the Daily Mail. On grammar schools, climate change and Brexit, Tory MPs have cheered the Prime Minister's stances but she has now upheld a key component of David Cameron's legacy. George Osborne was one of the first to praise May's decision, tweeting: "Recommitment to 0.7% aid target very welcome. Morally right, strengthens UK influence & was key to creating modern compassionate Conservatives".

A Conservative aide told me that the announcement reflected May's personal commitment to international development, pointing to her recent speech to International Development staff. 

But another Cameron-era target - the state pension "triple lock" - appears less secure. Asked whether the government would continue to raise pensions every year, May pointed to the Tories' record, rather than making any future commitment. The triple lock, which ensures pensions rise in line with average earnings, CPI inflation or by 2.5 per cent (whichever is highest), has long been regarded by some Conservatives as unaffordable. 

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has hinted that the Tories' "tax lock", which bars increases in income tax, VAT and National Insurance, could be similarly dropped. He said: "I’m a Conservative. I have no ideological desire to to raise taxes. But we need to manage the economy sensibly and sustainably. We need to get the fiscal accounts back into shape.

"It was self evidently clear that the commitments that were made in the 2015 manifesto did and do today constrain the ability to manage the economy flexibly."

May's short speech to workers at a GlaxoSmithKline factory was most notable for her emphasis that "the result is not certain" (the same message delivered by Jeremy Corbyn yesterday). As I reported on Wednesday, the Tories fear that the belief that Labour cannot win could reduce their lead as voters conclude there is no need to turn out. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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