Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Labour mustn't sign up to stagnation (Guardian)

We can steer Britain off the road to ruin – but emulating Tory austerity isn't the right way to do it, says Peter Hain.

2.  Don’t attack Britain’s oldies – they keep the economy going (Daily Telegraph)

The growing army of working over-65s dispels the idea that the elderly burden the young, says Fraser Nelson.

3. With this mess Labour should be miles ahead (Times)

The Chancellor should be toast – but the opposition would not be credible even if it repented of its spending sins, writes Philip Collins.

4. Parliament must support a free press (Daily Telegraph)

David Cameron's Royal Charter proposal is the best option for eradicating the kind of newspaper malpractice highlighted by the Leveson inquiry, argues a Telegraph editorial.

5. Leveson vote: some way from resolution (Guardian)

Politicians on all sides should look again to see if there isn't common ground, argues a Guardian editorial.

6. After hubris in Iraq, hesitation in Syria (Financial Times)

The tough lessons from an invasion a decade ago do not apply today, writes Philip Stephens.

7. A tawdry alliance and the threat to a free press (Daily Mail)

The most unedifying aspect of this sorry saga is the way the Labour Party has been hijacked by Hacked Off, says a Daily Mail editorial.

8. Bedroom tax: why you should march against this heartless, pointless 'reform' (Guardian)

Mass evictions of the most vulnerable are no way to tackle the housing benefit bill, and we must do all we can to stop them, writes Polly Toynbee.

9. As Obama flies in, this feels like a Berlin Wall moment for Israel (Independent)

There is now a majority here in favour of a two-state solution, writes Mary Dejevsky.

10. The British Budget is not as great as it was (Financial Times)

The chancellor’s showpiece had its heyday in the 1960s and has never regained its economic eminence, writes Samuel Brittan.

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I dined behind the Houses of Parliament in my sexually connected foursome

My wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple. We did not always check the significance of the date. 

I am self-employed and find that working from home, setting your own schedule, the days generally blur into each other, with weekends holding no significance, and public holidays, when those who are employed in factories, offices or shops get time off, meaning nothing. I am often surprised to go out and find the streets empty of traffic because it is some national day of observance, such as Christmas, that I wasn’t aware of. I find myself puzzled as to why the shops are suddenly full of Easter eggs or pancake batter.

Growing up in a Communist household, we had a distinct dislike for this kind of manufactured marketing opportunity anyway. I remember the time my mother tried to make me feel guilty because I’d done nothing for her on Mother’s Day and I pointed out that it was she who had told me that Mother’s Day was a cynical creation of the greetings card monopolies and the floral industrial complex.

Valentine’s Day is one of those I never see coming. It’s the one day of the year when even the worst restaurants are completely booked out by couples attempting to enjoy a romantic evening. Even those old-fashioned cafés you’ll find still lurking behind railway stations and serving spaghetti with bread and butter will tell you there’s a waiting list if you leave it late to reserve a table.

In the late 1980s my wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple, he a writer and she a TV producer. One particular place we liked was a restaurant attached to a 1930s block of flats, near the Houses of Parliament, where the endless corridors were lined with blank doors, behind which you sensed awful things happened. The steel dining room dotted with potted palm trees overlooked a swimming pool, and this seemed terribly sophisticated to us even if it meant all your overpriced food had a vague taste of chlorine.

The four of us booked to eat there on 14 February, not realising the significance of the date. We found at every other table there was a single couple, either staring adoringly into each other’s eyes or squabbling.

As we sat down I noticed we were getting strange looks from our fellow diners. Some were sort of knowing, prompting smiles and winks; others seemed more outraged. The staff, too, were either simpering or frosty. After a while we realised what was going on: it was Valentine’s Day! All the other customers had assumed that we were a sexually connected foursome who had decided to celebrate our innovative relationship by having dinner together on this special date.

For the four of us, the smirking attention set up a strange dynamic: after that night it always felt like we were saying something seedy to each other. “Do you want to get together on Sunday?” I’d say to one of them on the phone, and then find myself blushing. “I’ll see if we can fit it in,” they’d reply, and we would both giggle nervously.

Things became increasingly awkward between us, until in the end we stopped seeing them completely. 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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