Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Osborne’s got his story – and he’s sticking to it (Independent)

Balls will recognise Osborne’s strengths, writes John Rentoul. He shares two of the most important of them.

2. Things could get gloomier for Britain (Financial Times)

Osborne should veer towards caution – the recovery is liable to be snuffed out by events abroad, writes Janan Ganesh.

3. Who’s keeping tabs on the undercover cops? (Daily Telegraph)

The family of Stephen Lawrence are not the only ones concerned about their activities, says Philip Johnston. 

4. Sri Lanka summit taints Commonwealth (Financial Times)

Leaders should feel sick about accepting hospitality from a government with so grim a rights record, says Gideon Rachman.

5. Osborne's comprehensive spending review puts society in intensive care (Guardian)

As Osborne plans ever deeper cuts, Labour has to resist, says Polly Toynbee. The deficit can be shrunk by means that don't hammer the poor

6. The NHS must treat patients, not statistics (Times)

The last thing the health service needs is another big shake-up, writes Rachel Sylvester. Instead it must rediscover its heart.

7. The countryside’s children are being betrayed (Independent)

While the government's drive to improve education has transformed schools in London's inner-city, young people in rural areas are largely missed out, writes Terence Blacker.

8. Don't be fooled by Richard Branson's defence of Virgin trains (Guardian)

Richard Branson didn't like my column about his rail company – but he can't deny that taxpayers are piling up debts to subsidise his profits, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

9. We’ve got to be less secretive about secrets (Times)

The real lesson of the Snowden affair is that the public need to be told what sort of surveillance is going on, says Hugo Rifkind.

10. Marriage vows (Daily Telegraph)

If Cameron is convinced that promoting marriage in the tax system is worthwhile, he should have the courage of his convictions, says a Telegraph editorial. 

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Europe's elections show why liberals should avoid fatalism

France, Germany and the Netherlands suggest there is nothing inevitable about the right's advance.

Humans are unavoidably pattern-seeking creatures. We give meaning to disparate events where little or none may exist. So it is with Brexit and Donald Trump. The proximity of these results led to declarations of liberalism's demise. After decades of progress, the tide was said to have unavoidably turned.

Every election is now treated as another round in the great duel between libralism and populism. In the Netherlands, the perennial nativist Geert Wilders was gifted outsize attention in the belief that he could surf the Brexit-Trump wave to victory. Yet far from triumphing, the Freedom Party finished a distant second, increasing its seats total to 20 (four fewer than in 2010). Wilders' defeat was always more likely than not (and he would have been unable to form a government) but global events gifted him an aura of invincibility.

In France, for several years, Marine Le Pen has been likely to make the final round of the next presidential election. But it was only after Brexit and Trump's election that she was widely seen as a potential victor. As in 2002, the front républicain is likely to defeat the Front National. The winner, however, will not be a conservative but a liberal. According to the post-Trump narrative, Emmanuel Macron's rise should have been impossible. But his surge (albeit one that has left him tied with Le Pen in the first round) suggests liberalism is in better health than suggested.

In Germany, where the far-right Alternative für Deutschland was said to be remorselessly advancing, politics is returning to traditional two-party combat. The election of Martin Schulz has transformed the SPD's fortunes to the point where it could form the next government. As some Labour MPs resign themselves to perpeutal opposition, they could be forgiven for noting what a difference a new leader can make.

2016 will be forever remembered as the year of Brexit and Trump. Yet both events could conceivably have happened in liberalism's supposed heyday. The UK has long been the EU's most reluctant member and, having not joined the euro or the Schengen Zone, already had one foot outside the door. In the US, the conditions for the election of a Trump-like figure have been in place for decades. For all this, Leave only narrowly won and Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than her opponent. Liberalism is neither as weak as it is now thought, nor as strong as it was once thought.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.