Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Our response to the pensions challenge is still locked in its infancy (Daily Telegraph)

Ed Balls has won praise for addressing Britain’s old age problem, but he must go further, says Mary Riddell. 

2. Labour’s great surrender on public spending (Times)

By accepting Osborne’s spending plans it’s clear that all the main parties will have to make dramatic cuts, writes Daniel Finkelstein. 

3. The overstated inflation danger (Financial Times)

A high rate may be a risk in the very long run – but right now the risk is that it may be too low, writes Martin Wolf.

4. To combat tax avoidance, tough talk is not enough (Guardian)

David Cameron must deliver a concrete plan of action at the G8 summit, says Margaret Hodge. It's a crucial test of his leadership.

5. Erdogan’s focus should be his own party (Financial Times)

The real action will now take place in the Turkish prime minister’s AKP, writes David Gardner.

6. NSA surveillance: The US is behaving like China (Guardian)

Both governments think they are doing what is best for the state and people, says Ai Weiwei. But, as I know, such abuse of power can ruin lives.

7. Thames Water avoiding tax is the final insult (Daily Mail)

These firms have exploited Britain’s soft-touch regulation, and the fear of successive governments of intervening to protect consumers, writes Alex Brummer. 

8. Once again, the nationalists decide independence is all about sharing (Daily Telegraph)

Picking and choosing on pensions shows the SNP's determination to pretend breaking up Britain would be pain free, says Alan Cochrane. 

9. Time for a rethink on GM crops (Independent)

The dire prophecies of Frankenstein foods have not come to pass, says an Independent editorial. 

10. Tax cutters should welcome a bit of state intervention (Times)

Social breakdown drives much of the growth in spending, writes Ruth Porter. 

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Want to beat Theresa May? First, accept that she's popular

The difficult truth for the centre and left, and advocates of a new party, is that people don't "vote for the Tories reluctantly".

An election campaign that has been short on laughs has been livened up by a modest proposal by an immodest man: the barrister Jolyon Maugham, who used to write about tax for the New Statesman as well as advising Eds Miliband and Balls, has set out his (now mothballed) plans for a new party called Spring.

The original idea was a 28-day festival (each day would be celebrated with the national costumes, food and drink of one of the European Union’s member states) culiminating in the announcement of the candidacy of Spring’s first parliamentary candidate, one Jolyon Maugham, to stand against Theresa May in her constituency of Maidenhead. He has reluctantly abandoned the plan, because there isn’t the time between now and the election to turn it around.

There are many problems with the idea, but there is one paragraph in particular that leaps out:

“Like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, Labour’s left and moderates are bent on one another’s destruction. No one knows what the Lib Dems are for – other than the Lib Dems. And we vote for the Tories reluctantly, lacking an alternative.”

Even within this paragraph there are a number of problems. Say what you like about Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty but it seems hard to suggest that there is not a fairly large difference between the two – regardless of which one you think is which – that might perhaps be worth engaging with. There are fair criticisms of the Liberal Democrats’ uncertain start to this campaign but they have been pretty clear on their platform when they haven’t been playing defence on theological issues.

But the biggest problem is the last sentence: “We vote for the Tories reluctantly, lacking an alternative”. A couple of objections here: the first, I am not sure who the “we” are. Is it disgruntled former Labour members like Maugham who threw their toys out of the pram after Corbyn’s second successive leadership victory? If you are voting for the Tories reluctantly, I have invented a foolproof solution to “voting for the Tories reluctantly” that has worked in every election I’ve voted in so far: it’s to vote against the Tories.  (For what it’s worth, Maugham has said on Twitter that he will vote for the Liberal Democrats in his home constituency.)

I suspect, however, that the “we” Maugham is talking about are the voters. And actually, the difficult truth for the left and centre-left is that people are not voting for Theresa May “reluctantly”: they are doing it with great enthusiasm. They have bought the idea that she is a cautious operator and a safe pair of hands, however illusory that might be. They think that a big vote for the Tories increases the chance of a good Brexit deal, however unlikely that is.

There is not a large bloc of voters who are waiting for a barrister to turn up with a brass band playing Slovenian slow tunes in Maidenhead or anywhere in the country. At present, people are happy with Theresa May as Prime Minister. "Spring" is illustrative of a broader problem on much of the centre-left: they have a compelling diagnosis about what is wrong with Corbyn's leadership. They don't have a solution to any of Labour's problems that predate Corbyn, or have developed under him but not because of him, one of which is the emergence of a Tory leader who is popular and trusted. (David Cameron was trusted but unpopular, Boris Johnson is popular but distrusted.) 

Yes, Labour’s position would be a lot less perilous if they could either turn around Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity ratings or sub him out for a fresh, popular leader. That’s one essential ingredient of getting the Conservatives out of power. But the other, equally important element is understanding why Theresa May is popular – and how that popularity can be diminished and dissipated. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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