Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Osborne's in the crosshairs, and the trigger finger is twitching (Daily Telegraph)

His enemies know that if the Chancellor can’t find growth, the Tories are in real trouble, writes Benedict Brogan. 

2. As Osborne reels, why is Balls feeling the heat? (Independent)

There are calls for the shadow chancellor to be replaced - but Balls is one of the few politicians who has the economic experience to rise to the challenge of a crisis, says Steve Richards.

3. With threats and bribes, Gove forces schools to accept his phoney 'freedom' (Guardian)

Through its academies programme, the government is creating a novelty: the first capitalist command economy, writes George Monbiot. 

4. Euro crisis is breeding comics not fascists (Financial Times)

Times may be tough but this is not the 1930s, writes Gideon Rachman. Modern Europe is a richer, less traumatised continent. 

5. 'Benefit tourism' – real or hyped – must be tackled (Independent)

The longer ministers decline to tackle concern about welfare benefits for new migrants, the more likely it is that xenophobes will end up with the field to themselves, says an Independent editorial. 

6. Tories must see the conservative in Cameron (Times

The PM’s modernising instincts are rooted in traditional values, says Rachel Sylvester. His party must realise this is the only way to win.

7. After Eastleigh, the Lib Dems have finally found the fire in their belly (Guardian)

The Lib Dems must now seize the chance to prove they aren't just a fig leaf for the Tories' cruellest cuts, says Polly Toynbee.

8. Cameron condemned to rightward lurches (Financial Times)

The moment to push root-and-branch modernisation has gone, writes Janan Ganesh.

9. Theresa May's human rights stunt (Guardian)

The home secretary's talk of defying Europe's courts is all show, says Conor Gearty. Human rights are now part of our legal system – rightly so.

10. Why 'hi-viz’ will make the police less visible (Daily Telegraph)

Putting bobbies in the yellow jackets that everyone from dustment to builders wears will only reduce police officers' authority, says Philip Johnston. 

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A simple U-Turn may not be enough to get the Conservatives out of their tax credit mess

The Tories are in a mess over cuts to tax credits. But a mere U-Turn may not be enough to fix the problem. 

A spectre is haunting the Conservative party - the spectre of tax credit cuts. £4.4bn worth of cuts to the in-work benefits - which act as a top-up for lower-paid workers - will come into force in April 2016, the start of the next tax year - meaning around three million families will be £1,000 worse off. For most dual-earner families affected, that will be the equivalent of a one partner going without pay for an entire month.

The politics are obviously fairly toxic: as one Conservative MP remarked to me before the election, "show me 1,000 people in my constituency who would happily take a £1,000 pay cut, then we'll cut welfare". Small wonder that Boris Johnson is already making loud noises about the coming cuts, making his opposition to them a central plank of his 

Tory nerves were already jittery enough when the cuts were passed through the Commons - George Osborne had to personally reassure Conservative MPs that the cuts wouldn't result in the nightmarish picture being painted by Labour and the trades unions. Now that Johnson - and the Sun - have joined in the chorus of complaints.

There are a variety of ways the government could reverse or soften the cuts. The first is a straightforward U-Turn: but that would be politically embarrassing for Osborne, so it's highly unlikely. They could push back the implementation date - as one Conservative remarked - "whole industries have arranged their operations around tax credits now - we should give the care and hospitality sectors more time to prepare". Or they could adjust the taper rates - the point in your income  at which you start losing tax credits, taking away less from families. But the real problem for the Conservatives is that a mere U-Turn won't be enough to get them out of the mire. 

Why? Well, to offset the loss, Osborne announced the creation of a "national living wage", to be introduced at the same time as the cuts - of £7.20 an hour, up 70p from the current minimum wage.  In doing so, he effectively disbanded the Low Pay Commission -  the independent body that has been responsible for setting the national minimum wage since it was introduced by Tony Blair's government in 1998.  The LPC's board is made up of academics, trade unionists and employers - and their remit is to set a minimum wage that provides both a reasonable floor for workers without costing too many jobs.

Osborne's "living wage" fails at both counts. It is some way short of a genuine living wage - it is 70p short of where the living wage is today, and will likely be further off the pace by April 2016. But, as both business-owners and trade unionists increasingly fear, it is too high to operate as a legal minimum. (Remember that the campaign for a real Living Wage itself doesn't believe that the living wage should be the legal wage.) Trade union organisers from Usdaw - the shopworkers' union - and the GMB - which has a sizable presence in the hospitality sector -  both fear that the consequence of the wage hike will be reductions in jobs and hours as employers struggle to meet the new cost. Large shops and hotel chains will simply take the hit to their profit margins or raise prices a little. But smaller hotels and shops will cut back on hours and jobs. That will hit particularly hard in places like Cornwall, Devon, and Britain's coastal areas - all of which are, at the moment, overwhelmingly represented by Conservative MPs. 

The problem for the Conservatives is this: it's easy to work out a way of reversing the cuts to tax credits. It's not easy to see how Osborne could find a non-embarrassing way out of his erzatz living wage, which fails both as a market-friendly minimum and as a genuine living wage. A mere U-Turn may not be enough.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.