Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Sir John Major has broken his silence – let’s hope the party is listening (Daily Telegraph)

The former PM wants less 'ideology’ and more talk about what matters to ordinary people, writes Peter Oborne. 

2. It's not all immigrants who the Tories fear. It's the mobile poor (Guardian)

The real aim of recent policies is to segregate belonging according to income, writes Zoe Williams. The more you earn, the more rights you have.

3. Drone strikes set a dangerous precedent (Financial Times)

A nation at war with an abstract threat has no right to mount a pre-emptive killing spree, says David Pilling. 

4. Osborne is best when he’s most unpopular (Times)

There is a Bad Osbo who obsesses about political tactics and a Good Osbo who takes long-term decisions, writes Tim Montgomerie.

5. Grangemouth could help shape the Scottish referendum (Guardian)

The SNP has cast itself as defender of the economy from the icy wind of global markets, writes Martin Kettle. What's icier than closure on the Forth?

6. Oil and troubled waters for Alex Salmond (Daily Telegraph)

The closure of Scotland’s sole refinery would be a body-blow to the SNP’s dream of independence, says Alan Cochrane.

7. John Major's snide attack on the PM over fuel prices was as flawed as his six disastrous years in Number 10 (Daily Mail)

The more one re-reads Sir John’s words, the more they read like a calculated act of treacher, says Simon Heffer. 

8. Cameron must stop Europe’s latest assault on Britain (Times)

New regulations on technology are utter madness, writes Rohan Silva. 

9. The Prime Minister is in a bind over energy prices, but cutting green levies is no way out (Independent)

Cameron has sounded the death knell of his once-vaunted green conservatism, says an Independent leader.

10. Companies must adapt to new rules (Financial Times)

Banks and utilities need to make their case, be open and look beyond immediate troubles, writes John Gapper.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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

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