Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The west’s Mid East dominance is ending (Financial Times)

Those calling for deeper US involvement in the Syrian conflict are living in the past, writes Gideon Rachman.

2. Forget the excuses, here's how Britain can tax the rich (Guardian)

Cameron has made a bold push at the G8, writes Polly Toynbee. But it's time our politicians admit you can't have Swedish services on US rates.

3. The Thatcherite case for staying in the EU (Daily Telegraph)

Britain is richer, safer and more powerful for being a member of this global economic giant, says Ken Clarke. 

4. Is Ed up for a referendum? He may need to be (Independent)

Tory taunts won’t go away if Miliband resists matching Cameron’s pledge, says Donald Macintyre.

5. Intervening in Syria is a terrible idea – but we might just have to (Daily Telegraph)

The advantages that come from our alliance with the US also bring a heavy responsibility, writes Benedict Brogan.

6. No Minister, you can’t have recycled paper (Times)

The wasteful practices of the National Union of Mandarins is making cuts even deeper than they need to be, writes Rachel Sylvester.

7. Borisstan: the independent city state and docking station for global wealth formerly known as London (Guardian)

What would the British capital look like in the future if it broke away from the rest of the country, asks Aditya Chakrabortty.

8. Hassan Rowhani is a man we must do business with (Times)

Iran’s new President is brave and outspoken, writes Norman Lamont. The west should see him as a Gorbachev.

9. U-turn if you want to, Ed Miliband’s still a dud (Daily Telegraph)

There's just one thing missing from Labour's recent policy changes: a convincing leader, says Dan Hodges.

10. Britain is served well by its political class (Financial Times)

The crisis response by the UK’s unloved elites has been better than in many other rich democracies, writes Janan Ganesh.

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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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