Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The phone-hacking trial will be dream territory for the PM’s rivals (Daily Telegraph)

Under siege, Cameron will find it hard to resist the proposed state controls on the media, says Peter Oborne. 

2. The relentless school disaster movie is win-win for Michael Gove (Guardian)

The deficiency narrative cunningly attached to state education is the Tories at their brightest, says Zoe Williams. But do parents really buy it?

3. Newspapers are ignoring the reality. Our press will still be free (Independent)

The reaction of some newspaper executives conveys a lofty sense of power, writes Steve Richards. 

4. More than jihadism or Iran, China's role in Africa is Obama's obsession (Guardian)

Where America brings drones, the Chinese build roads. Al-Shabaab and co march in lockstep with this new imperialism, says John Pilger.

5. Beware: a dangerous new generation of leakers (Times)

The threat to security services from tech-savvy young anti-government ‘libertarians’ looks to be serious, says David Aaronovitch. 

6. Malala rises above east-west tensions (Financial Times)

It is a cop-out to conflate her case with legitimate Pakistani grievances against the west, writes David Pilling. 

7. The paper that helps Britain's enemies (Daily Mail)

The Guardian, with lethal irresponsibility, has crossed a line by printing tens of thousands of words describing the secret techniques used to monitor terrorists, says a Daily Mail editorial. 

8. Forget fiscal policy – supply matters (Financial Times)

When we understand the issue better, it will determine how much more austerity is needed in the UK, says Chris Giles.

9. It's not sexy, but frailty in old age is a feminist issue too (Guardian)

We talk about Botox, dating and Miley Cyrus, but we should be far angrier about the crisis over long-term care of the elderly, writes Gaby Hinsliff. 

10. Brown's mud-slingers eat humble pie (Daily Telegraph)

Ed Balls is turning to a once-reviled figure in an effort to win back public trust for his fiscal plans, says Sue Cameron. 

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As the strangers approach the bed, I wonder if this could be a moment of great gentleness

I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do.

It’s 1.13am on an autumn morning some time towards the end of the 20th century and I’m awake in a vast hotel bed in a small town in the east of England. The mysterious east, with its horizons that seem to stretch further than they should be allowed to stretch by law. I can’t sleep. My asthma is bad and I’m wheezing. The clock I bought for £3 many years earlier ticks my life away with its long, slow music. The street light outside makes the room glow and shimmer.

I can hear footsteps coming down the corridor – some returning drunks, I guess, wrecked on the reef of a night on the town. I gaze at the ceiling, waiting for the footsteps to pass.

They don’t pass. They stop outside my door. I can hear whispering and suppressed laughter. My clock ticks. I hear a key card being presented, then withdrawn. The door opens slowly, creaking like a door on a Radio 4 play might. The whispering susurrates like leaves on a tree.

It’s an odd intrusion, this, as though somebody is clambering into your shirt, taking their time. A hotel room is your space, your personal kingdom. I’ve thrown my socks on the floor and my toothbrush is almost bald in the bathroom even though there’s a new one in my bag because I thought I would be alone in my intimacy.

Two figures enter. A man and a woman make their way towards the bed. In the half-dark, I can recognise the man as the one who checked me in earlier. He says, “It’s all right, there’s nobody in here,” and the woman laughs like he has just told her a joke.

This is a moment. I feel like I’m in a film. It’s not like being burgled because this isn’t my house and I’m sure they don’t mean me any harm. In fact, they mean each other the opposite.

Surely they can hear my clock dripping seconds? Surely they can hear me wheezing?

They approach, closer and closer, towards the bed. The room isn’t huge but it seems to be taking them ages to cross it. I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do. I should speak. I should say with authority, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” But I don’t.

I could just lie here, as still as a book, and let them get in. It could be a moment of great gentleness, a moment between strangers. I would be like a chubby, wheezing Yorkshire pillow between them. I could be a metaphor for something timeless and unspoken.

They get closer. The woman reaches her hand across the bed and she touches the man’s hand in a gesture of tenderness so fragile that it almost makes me sob.

I sit up and shout, “Bugger off!” and they turn and run, almost knocking my clock from the bedside table. The door crashes shut shakily and the room seems to reverberate.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge