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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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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