Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

In the Times the former army officer Patrick Hennessey warns the military to be wary of criticising journalists such as the freed New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell:

That Mr Farrell was investigating the sort of collateral damage incident that is undermining the progress being made by Nato forces is admirable. Those within the Armed Forces who would seek to criticise or restrict journalists such as him would do well to remember that those same journalists, reporting on kit shortages and under-resourcing, put a public pressure on the Government that the MoD has been unable to do.

The Independent's Andreas Whittam Smith writes that David Cameron's plan to cut ministerial pay ignores the extraordinary growth of the payroll vote:

Actually the figure to look at is not what ministers are paid but how many there are. Way back in 1900, the government consisted of 60 ministers. By 1970, after two world wars, the development of the welfare state and greater involvement by government in every area of life, the number had risen to just above 100. What has subsequently driven the total to 170 is not the requirements of governing but the desire to control the House of Commons.

The Guardian's Martin Kettle argues that the illiberalism of British society prevents the Liberal Democrats doing as well as they deserve:

The truth is simply that most Tory and Labour voters are not instinctively liberals.

Being liberal, the writer-turned-politician Michael Ignatieff said in a lecture in London in July, is a habit of the heart. A liberal has a generous heart and an open mind. A liberal puts freedom first, is optimistic about human nature but sceptical about power. Ignatieff's definitions seem about right to me. But I do not think a majority of people share them, and certainly not in either the Tory or the Labour party.

In the Independent, Steve Richards writes that Labour's problems are too entrenched and complex for a change of leader to help:

The harsh reality for Labour is that the influential right-wing newspapers that once gave Blair a fair hearing have made up their mind that they want Cameron and Osborne in power. Almost certainly they would report a sudden switch of leader as a symptom of Labour's crisis and not as a successful resolution of internal traumas. What is more, if [Alan] Johnson as a new prime minister were to make one slip as he outlined economic policy for the first time in his political career, they would slaughter him and his party.

The Economist's Bagehot column says that the malaise in Afghanistan could mark the end of Britain's "era of war":

For fear of seeming unpatriotic, no prominent politician is calling for withdrawal -- yet. Nevertheless, the momentum of the war and opinion about it seem to be heading that way. As Mr Blair learned, making predictions in such a volatile world can be hazardous.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Sadiq Khan is probably London's new mayor - what will happen in a Tooting by-election?

There will be a by-election in the new mayor's south London seat.

At the time of writing, Sadiq Khan appears to have a fairly comfortable lead over Zac Goldsmith in the London mayoral election. Which means (at least) two (quite) interesting things are likely to happen: 1) Sadiq Khan is going to be mayor, and 2) there is going to be a by-election in Tooting.

Unlike the two parliamentary by-elections in Ogmore and Sheffield that Labour won at a canter last night, the south London seat of Tooting is a genuine marginal. The Conservatives have had designs on the seat since at least 2010, when the infamous ‘Tatler Tory’, Mark Clarke, was the party’s candidate. Last May, Khan narrowly increased his majority over the Tories, winning by almost 3,000 votes with a majority of 5.3 per cent. With high house prices pushing London professionals further out towards the suburbs, the seat is gentrifying, making Conservatives more positive about the prospect of taking the seat off Labour. No government has won a by-election from an opposition party since the Conservative Angela Rumbold won Mitcham and Morden from a Labour-SDP defector in June 1982. In a nice parallel, that seat borders Tooting.

Of course, the notion of a Tooting by-election will not come as a shock to local Conservatives, however much hope they invested in a Goldsmith mayoral victory. Unusually, the party’s candidate from the general election, Dan Watkins, an entrepreneur who has lived in the area for 15 years, has continued to campaign in the seat since his defeat, styling himself as the party’s “parliamentary spokesman for Tooting”. It would be a big surprise if Watkins is not re-anointed as the candidate for the by-election.

What of the Labour side? For some months, those on the party’s centre-left have worried with varying degrees of sincerity that Ken Livingstone may see the by-election as a route back into Parliament. Having spent the past two weeks muttering conspiratorially about the relationship between early 20th-Century German Jews and Adolf Hitler before having his Labour membership suspended, that possibility no longer exists.

Other names talked about include: Rex Osborn, leader of the Labour group on Wandsworth Council; Simon Hogg, who is Osborn’s deputy; Rosena Allin-Khan, an emergency medicine doctor who also deputises for Osborn; Will Martindale, who was Labour’s defeated candidate in Battersea last year; and Jayne Lim, who was shortlisted earlier in the year for the Sheffield Brightside selection and used to practise as a doctor at St George’s hospital in Tooting.

One thing that any new Labour MP would have to contend with is the boundary review reporting in 2018, which will reduce the number of London constituencies by 5. This means that a new Tooting MP could quickly find themselves pitched in a selection fight for a new constituency with their neighbours Siobhan McDonagh, who currently holds Mitcham and Morden, and/or Chuka Umunna, who is the MP for Streatham. 

According to the Sunday Times, Labour is planning to hold the by-election as quickly as possible, perhaps even before the EU referendum on June 23rd.

It's also worth noting that, as my colleague Anoosh Chakelian reported in March, George Galloway plans to stand as well.

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.