Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Memo to the Big Six: cut your prices now (Times)

If they don’t want to become as hated as bankers, energy companies must wise up to political reality, says Philip Collins. 

2. Harsh truths about the decline of Britain (Daily Telegraph)

All the indicators of progress are heading in the wrong direction, and time is running out, writes Jeremy Warner.

3. Welfare dependency isn't Britain's gravest economic problem. Pitiful pay is (Guardian)

If the government really wanted to cut its benefit bill, it would ensure that employers give their workers a living wage, says Polly Toynbee.

4. Hollande holds key to Merkel’s euro plan (Financial Times)

Germany believes the long-term future of the single currency rests with France link, writes Philip Stephens.

5. If I ruled the world – Tony Blair’s lessons in how best to govern (Independent)

How do politicians deliver the changes they have been elected to deliver, asks John Rentoul.

6. Iain Duncan Smith: faith and the facts (Guardian)

Duncan Smith's universal credit has been blessed, to an exceptional degree, with the benefit of the doubt – until now, says a Guardian editorial. 

7. George Osborne should halt the train journey no one wants to take (Daily Telegraph)

HS2 was an interesting idea at first, but it has proved to be an analogue solution for a digital age, argues Fraser Nelson.

8. UK’s energy chaos reflects a lack of focus (Financial Times)

We have an alphabet soup of policies creating unnecessary complexity, writes Paul Johnson.

9. Afghanistan? Iraq? Nope, Dick Cheney doesn’t believe in regrets (Independent)

You'll be hard pressed to find contrition in this apparent autobiography, says Peter Popham.

10. The Red Cross needs to reclaim its hijacked neutrality (Guardian)

As it turns 150, the ICRC must work to reassert its reputation – undermined by Blair's wars and political adventurism, writes Simon Jenkins.

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Donald Trump's inauguration signals the start of a new and more unstable era

A century in which the world's hegemonic power was a rational actor is about to give way to a more terrifying reality. 

For close to a century, the United States of America has been the world’s paramount superpower, one motivated by, for good and for bad, a rational and predictable series of motivations around its interests and a commitment to a rules-based global order, albeit one caveated by an awareness of the limits of enforcing that against other world powers.

We are now entering a period in which the world’s paramount superpower is neither led by a rational or predictable actor, has no commitment to a rules-based order, and to an extent it has any guiding principle, they are those set forward in Donald Trump’s inaugural: “we will follow two simple rules: hire American and buy American”, “from this day forth, it’s going to be America first, only America first”.

That means that the jousting between Trump and China will only intensify now that he is in office.  The possibility not only of a trade war, but of a hot war, between the two should not be ruled out.

We also have another signal – if it were needed – that he intends to turn a blind eye to the actions of autocrats around the world.

What does that mean for Brexit? It confirms that those who greeted the news that an US-UK trade deal is a “priority” for the incoming administration, including Theresa May, who described Britain as “front of the queue” for a deal with Trump’s America, should prepare themselves for disappointment.

For Europe in general, it confirms what should already been apparent: the nations of Europe are going to have be much, much more self-reliant in terms of their own security. That increases Britain’s leverage as far as the Brexit talks are concerned, in that Britain’s outsized defence spending will allow it acquire goodwill and trade favours in exchange for its role protecting the European Union’s Eastern border.

That might allow May a better deal out of Brexit than she might have got under Hillary Clinton. But there’s a reason why Trump has increased Britain’s heft as far as security and defence are concerned: it’s because his presidency ushers in an era in which we are all much, much less secure. 

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