Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The latest front in Operation Divide and Rule sees soldiers being used to fight a political battle (Independent)

The idea that soldiers are somehow independent of the welfare state – and thus immune to attacks on it – is bunk, and Philip Hammond knows it, says Owen Jones.

2. Cameron must find some TLC for the right (Times

The Prime Minister’s neglect of his traditional supporters opened the door for UKIP, writes Tim Montgomerie. Now he has to woo them back.

3. With a broken promise, the government has handed the NHS over to the market (Guardian)

Reassurances on clinicians and local people controlling how services are commissioned look likely to be overturned, writes Clive Peedell. 

4. This cap on bankers’ bonuses is like a dead cat – pure distraction (Daily Telegraph)

EU autocrats think that by blaming the City of London, they have an entire continent fooled, writes Boris Johnson. 

5. Alawite history reveals the complexities of Syria that the west does not understand (Independent)

The maps long favoured in the west partition off Arab countries into ethnic divisions, but all these make clear is our own ignorance, says Robert Fisk.

6. A taste for mutually assured destruction (Financial Times)

US sequestration looks likely only to entrench the partisanship it was supposed to circumvent, writes Edward Luce.

7. No mainstream party in England truly understands conservatism (Guardian)

In Eastleigh and beyond, millions of voters who loathe the establishment tendency to piety are without a voice, says John Harris.

8. Rise of fruitcakes shows voters hate cynical Cam & Co (Sun)

For too many of our politicians, getting elected and running the country is the ultimate career move, not a passionate calling, says Tom Newton Dunn. 

9. I know where the political common ground is, Dave. The question is: do you? (Daily Mail)

The Prime Minister's lurching from one wing to the other doesn’t inspire much confidence that there’s any substance behind his promises, writes Melanie Phillips. 

10. Secret courts: The Liberal Democrats' duty (Guardian)

Should they shrink from at the very least amending the bill, the Lib Dems will reveal that they are neither liberal nor democratic, says a Guardian editorial.

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John Major's double warning for Theresa May

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit seems to be a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.