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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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.