Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Guardian's Timothy Garton Ash warns that Europe risks losing the attention of the US unless it acts as a united force:

[U]nlike during the cold war, the United States is not focused on Europe and does not regard helping to build a strong, united Europe as being among its own vital interests. Europeans may continue to feel that Obama is "one of us"; and in one way he is, but in another way he isn't -- and he certainly won't do our work for us. If we Europeans want to get our act together, we must get our act together.

A leader in the Times calls for Silvio Berlusconi to resign after losing his immunity from prosecution:

Little could have more clearly shown Mr Berlusconi's contempt for the law than his lawyer's Orwellian assertion to the court that the prime minister was no longer "first among equals" but ought to be considered "first above equals" . . . The court case . . . would be a huge distraction from his job as prime minister. He has sought to live above the law; now he will be consumed by it. It is surely time that Mr Berlusconi stop putting his own interests ahead of his country's. He should resign.

The Independent's Robert Fisk argues that the treaty the Armenian president has signed with Turkey betrays the victims of the genocide:

Every year, new evidence emerges about this mass ethnic cleansing, the first holocaust of the last century; and every year, Turkey denies that it ever committed genocide. Yet on Saturday -- to the horror of millions of descendants of Armenian survivors -- the president of Armenia, Serg Sarkissian, plans to agree to a protocol with Turkey to reopen diplomatic relations, which should allow for new trade concessions and oil interests. And he proposes to do this without honouring his most important promise to Armenians abroad -- to demand that Turkey admit it carried out the Armenian genocide in 1915.

In the Daily Telegraph, David Blair says the Conservatives have taken a big risk by offering Sir Richard Dannatt a post:

If a Tory administration starves the armed forces of funds -- and the Ministry of Defence will not be excluded from the public spending cuts envisaged by George Osborne -- General Dannatt can be trusted to speak out in protest. The man who became the scourge of Labour ministers will be just as willing to take on the Conservatives if he believes they are damaging the armed forces.

The Los Angeles Times's Meghan Daum reports on the success of an essay written by a colonel calling for the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the US military:

Pointing out that countries such as Australia, Britain, Canada and Israel, which have lifted bans on gays in the military, have seen "no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion or ability to recruit or retain", Prakash writes that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy "forces a compromise in integrity" that is ultimately "damaging to the unit cohesion its stated purpose is to preserve".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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