Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Miliband needs Balls the pragmatist (Financial Times)

The shadow chancellor is a useful corrective to the Labour leader, says Janan Ganesh.

2. Why this year's freshers are just part of a failed experiment (Guardian)

Higher education is pumping out people with degrees into a jobs market that doesn't need them. It's blighting lives – and undermining the university system itself, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

3. The west must act judiciously over Somalia if these horrors are to end (Independent)

Somalia’s problems have been worsened by bungled intervention from outside, writes Ian Birrell.

4. It was Iron Balls' best shot, but will Tory scare tactics win the day? (Guardian)

Cameron's economic policies are in disarray, but his team's supreme skill is in sticking the stiletto into Labour, says Polly Toynbee.

5. Merkel the visionary is misunderstood (Financial Times)

The chancellor sees that German voters’ interests do not conflict with keeping the euro alive, writes Gideon Rachman.

6. RBS's mad rise and catastrophic fall can't all be blamed on Fred Goodwin (City AM)

The rise of RBS is a very simple one about hype and the human tendency to manias, says Iain Martin.

7. Ed is haunted by the ghosts of politics past (Times)

The Labour leader’s heart lies with old socialism, but his head knows he must appeal to the centre, writes Rachel Sylvester.

8. Angela Merkel’s triumph is good news for Britain (Daily Telegraph)

David Cameron must seize his moment to reverse the drive towards closer union, says Mats Persson.

9. Why is Apple so shifty about how it makes the iPhone? (Guardian)

The paragon of modern tech risks losing its shine by dodging queries about Indonesia, and an orgy of unregulated tin mining, writes George Monbiot.

10. Now I know why I hate the nasties of UKIP (Times)

It’s because it starts from a belief that Britain is under siege from enemies, then goes looking for them, says Hugo Rifkind.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

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