Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Enough of playing Hamlet: Obama needs to act now (Guardian)

The indecisive US president has shown that he is as torn as the rest of us over intervention in Syria, writes Jonathan Freedland. But his credibility is at stake.

2. Not even IDS faced the venom confronting Ed Miliband (Daily Telegraph)

Labour’s leader may be reviled, but David Cameron’s arrogance is to blame for the botched Syria vote, says Mary Riddell. 

3. Syria is following Afghanistan’s path (Financial Times)

While international engagement is ever less popular, it is increasingly necessary, writes David Miliband.

4. ‘Lessons from Iraq’ are not lessons at all (Times)

When it comes to Syria we cannot look back to 2003 and be certain what the endgame should be, writes Daniel Finkelstein.

5. Two quarters of growth don't mean George Osborne's policy has worked (Guardian)

Talk of an economic recovery rings hollow to ordinary families in Britain, who are still seeing their living standards fall, says Ed Balls.

6. Export obsession is crushing Germany (Financial Times)

The country’s recent success has been based on cutting wages, writes Adam Posen.

7. Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange: our new heroes (Guardian)

As the NSA revelations have shown, whistleblowing is now an essential art, writes Slavoj Žižek. It is our means of keeping 'public reason' alive.

8. 'Scotland versus Salmond' could be the way to win (Daily Telegraph)

The SNP's programme shows the First Minister's focus on independence ignores his country's problems, writes Alan Cochrane. 

9. Here’s how a ‘good’ bank could operate (Independent)

The near-bankruptcy of the Co-op bank is an awful warning of what can go wrong, writes Andreas Whittam Smith. 

10. Merkel may not be the friend Cameron thinks (Times)

The German leader is sure to be re-elected but Britain cannot count on her, says Roger Boyes.

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It's not WhatsApp that was at fault in the Westminster attacks. It's our prisons

Britain's criminal justice system neither deterred nor rehabilitated Khalid Masood, and may even have facilitated his radicalisation. 

The dust has settled, the evidence has been collected and the government has decided who is to blame for the attack on Westminster. That’s right, its WhatsApp and their end-to-end encryption of messages. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, wants tech companies to install a backdoor into messages like these that the government can then access.

There are a couple of problems here, not least that Adrian Russell aka Khalid Masood was known to the security services but considered to be low-risk. Even if the government had had the ability to gain entry to his WhatsApp, they wouldn’t have used it. Then there’s the fact that end-to-end encryption doesn’t just protect criminals and terrorists – it protects users from criminals and terrorists. Any backdoor will be vulnerable to attack, not only from our own government and foreign powers, but by non-state actors including fraudsters, and other terrorists.

(I’m parking, also, the question of whether these are powers that should be handed to any government in perpetuity, particularly one in a country like Britain’s, where near-unchecked power is handed to the executive as long as it has a parliamentary majority.)

But the biggest problem is that there is an obvious area where government policy failed in the case of Masood: Britain’s prisons system.

Masood acted alone though it’s not yet clear if he was merely inspired by international jihadism – that is, he read news reports, watched their videos on social media and came up with the plan himself – or he was “enabled” – that is, he sought out and received help on how to plan his attack from the self-styled Islamic State.

But what we know for certain is that he was, as is a recurring feature of the “radicalisation journey”, in possession of a string of minor convictions from 1982 to 2002 and that he served jail time. As the point of having prisons is surely to deter both would-be offenders and rehabilitate its current occupants so they don’t offend again, Masood’s act of terror is an open-and-shut case of failure in the prison system. Not only he did prison fail to prevent him committing further crimes, he went on to commit one very major crime.  That he appears to have been radicalised in prison only compounds the failure.

The sad thing is that not so very long ago a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice was thinking seriously about prison and re-offending. While there was room to critique some of Michael Gove’s solutions to that problem, they were all a hell of a lot better than “let’s ban WhatsApp”. 

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