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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Scotland’s independence referendum could be a dry run for a Euro In/Out vote in 2017 (Daily Telegraph)

The arguments being made for the Union could soon be used to defend Brussels, writes Benedict Brogan. 

2. The budget: look out for even more of George Osborne's sham pledges (Guardian)

The chancellor likes to appear committed to shrinking the deficit with cuts – but it's a fraud, just as his budget will be, says Polly Toynbee. 

3. Wolf at the door is the Tories’ best ally (Financial Times)

The cause of deficit-reduction keeps the coalition together and makes Labour look feckless, says Janan Ganesh. 

4. It’s the great Lib Dem-Tory economic love-in (Times)

If there had only been only one party in power, there would have been more differences than in the present coalition, says Rachel Sylvester. 

5. Politicians have stopped teaching. We can’t be surprised that voters are not enthused (Independent)

Tony Benn’s nerve-shredding impact on Labour has led to an extreme outbreak of caution when modern politicians speak, writes Steve Richards. 

6. George Osborne's budget will be for the privileged few (Guardian)

The chancellor's policies will increase inequality – which is not only socially unjust but bad for our economy, writes Ed Miliband. 

7. Sanctions won't scare the Bear (Daily Mail)

The smart Russian money will be well out of the reach of the western powers, writes Alex Brummer. 

8. Is George Osborne really a Conservative at all? (Times)

The Chancellor is no high priest of austerity, writes Ed Conway. Other countries are cutting more than Britain.

9. Economy: growing pains (Guardian)

The failure of the economic recovery to translate into a political resurgence for the Conservatives is striking, notes a Guardian editorial. 

10. History textbooks can start wars (Financial Times)

The imposition of an authorised version of events turns education into brainwashing, writes Gideon Rachman. 

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Theresa May's magic money tree is growing in Northern Ireland

Her £1bn deal with the DUP could make it even harder to push through cuts in the rest of the UK.

Going, going, gone...sold to the dark-haired woman from Enniskillen! Theresa May has signed a two-year deal with Arlene Foster, the DUP's leader, to keep her in office. The price? A cool £1bn and the extension of the military covenant to Northern Ireland.

The deal will have reverberations both across the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland specifically. To take the latter first – the amount spent in Northern Ireland in 2016/17 was just under £10bn. A five point increase in spending on health, education and roads is a fairly large feather in anyone's cap.

It transforms the picture as far as the fraught negotiations over restoring power-sharing goes. It increases the pressure on Sinn Féin to restore power-sharing so they can help decide exactly where the money goes. And if there's another election, it means that Arlene Foster goes into it not as the woman who oversaw the wasteful RHI scheme (a renewable energy programme that because of its poor drafting saw farmers paid to heat empty rooms) but as the negotiator who bagged an extra £1bn for Northern Ireland. 

Across the United Kingdom, the optics are less good for the (nominal) senior partner to the deal.

"May buys DUP support with £1 billion 'bung" is the Times"£1bn for DUP is 'just the start" is the Telegraph's splash, and their Scottish edition is worse: "Fury at 'grubby' deal with DUP". With friends like this, who needs the Guardian? (They've gone for "May hands £1bn bonanza to DUP to cling on at No 10" as their splash, FYI.) 

Not to be outdone, the Mirror opts for "May's £1bn bribe to crackpots" while the Scotsman goes for "£100 million per vote: The price of power".  Rounding off the set, the Evening Standard has mocked Foster up as Dr Evil and Theresa May as Mini-Me on its front page. The headline? "I demand the sum of....one billion pounds!"   

Of course, in terms of what the government spends, £1bn is much ado about nothing. (To put it in perspective, the total budget across the UK is £770bn or thereabouts, debt interest around £40bn, the deficit close to £76bn).

But only a few weeks ago Theresa May was telling a nurse that the reason she couldn't get a pay rise is that there is "no magic money tree". Now that magic money tree is growing freely in Northern Ireland. The Conservatives have been struggling to get further cuts through as it is – just look at the row over tax credits, or the anger at school cuts in the election – but now any further cuts in England, Scotland and Wales will rub up against the inevitable comeback not only from the opposition parties but the voters: "But you've got money to spend in Northern Ireland!"

(That £1bn is relatively small probably makes matters worse – an outlay per DUP MP that you might expect a world-class football club to spend on a quality player. It's tangible, rather like that £350m for the NHS. £30bn? That's just money.)

For Labour, who have spent the last seven years arguing, with varying degrees of effectiveness that austerity is a choice, it's as close to an open goal as you can imagine. Theresa May's new government is now stable – but it's an open question as to how long it will take her party to feel strong again.

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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