Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The arts are more than a way to make money, Maria Miller (Observer)

The culture minister tells Hull what a financial boon being City of Culture will be. She's missing the point, writes Catherine Bennett.

2. Thanks to Paul Flowers, expect politics to get ugly again (Sunday Telegraph)

There was tacit agreement that politicians’ past indiscretions were a private matter, says Matthew D'Ancona, but the gloves could be off for the election in 2015.

3. Needed fast: a human face on the invisible crime of modern slavery (Sunday Times) (£)

Slavery is back, in the country that so proudly abolished it 180 years ago, writes Camilla Cavendish.

4. David Cameron demeans his office (Independent on Sunday)

Ed Miliband: The Conservatives’ tactics of fear and smear raise serious questions about type of politics we want.

5. How can banking still be a source of scandal so long after the crash? (Observer)

There are alarming signs that people are behaving as if there were nothing really to learn from the bubble years, says Andrew Rawnsley.

6. Tory smearing of Labour is vilest form of politics - and all because they are in a mess (Mirror)

We’re set for one of the dirtiest election campaigns this country has seen, says Owen Jones, writing as a guest columnist.

7. Yes, we do need to change the age of consent. To 35. (Independent on Sunday)

The first pleasure of bodily love isn’t penetration - it's disobedience, says Howard Jacobson.

8. Pulling off these two deals might just rescue President Knife Edge (Sunday Times) (£)

The Obama presidency — like the Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Bush presidencies before it — is now in a severe second-term crisis, writes Andrew O'Sullivan.

9. Self-improving strivers need rewarding, too (Sunday Telegraph)

Janet Daley: Bizarrely, only the truly rich and the truly poor have had their income tax cut

10. Universities should be the last place to ban free speech (Observer)

The censorship of an atheist bookstall at freshers' week is just another example of heavy-handed repression in our universities, writes Nick Cohen.

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Emmanuel Macron can win - but so can Marine Le Pen

Macron is the frontrunner, but he remains vulnerable to an upset. 

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is campaigning in the sixth largest French city aka London today. He’s feeling buoyed by polls showing not only that he is consolidating his second place but that the voters who have put him there are increasingly comfortable in their choice

But he’ll also be getting nervous that those same polls show Marine Le Pen increasing her second round performance a little against both him and François Fillon, the troubled centre-right candidate. Her slight increase, coming off the back of riots after the brutal arrest of a 22-year-old black man and Macron’s critical comments about the French empire in Algeria is a reminder of two things: firstly the potential for domestic crisis or terror attack to hand Le Pen a late and decisive advantage.  Secondly that Macron has not been doing politics all that long and the chance of a late implosion on his part cannot be ruled out either.

That many of his voters are former supporters of either Fillon or the Socialist Party “on holiday” means that he is vulnerable should Fillon discover a sense of shame – highly unlikely but not impossible either – and quit in favour of a centre-right candidate not mired in scandal. And if Benoît Hamon does a deal with Jean-Luc Mélenchon – slightly more likely that Fillon developing a sense of shame but still unlikely – then he could be shut out of the second round entirely.

What does that all mean? As far as Britain is concerned, a Macron or Fillon presidency means the same thing: a French government that will not be keen on an easy exit for the UK and one that is considerably less anti-Russian than François Hollande’s. But the real disruption may be in the PR battle as far as who gets the blame if Theresa May muffs Brexit is concerned.

As I’ve written before, the PM doesn’t like to feed the beast as far as the British news cycle and the press is concerned. She hasn’t cultivated many friends in the press and much of the traditional rightwing echo chamber, from the press to big business, is hostile to her. While Labour is led from its leftmost flank, that doesn’t much matter. But if in the blame game for Brexit, May is facing against an attractive, international centrist who shares much of the prejudices of May’s British critics, the hope that the blame for a bad deal will be placed solely on the shoulders of the EU27 may turn out to be a thin hope indeed.

Implausible? Don’t forget that people already think that Germany is led by a tough operator who gets what she wants, and think less of David Cameron for being regularly outmanoeuvered by her – at least, that’s how they see it. Don’t rule out difficulties for May if she is seen to be victim to the same thing from a resurgent France.

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