Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Mr Cameron must chose his words more carefully (The Independent)

The coalition is charged with letting playing fields fall to developers, but Michael Gove is merely going where Labour went before him, writes John Rentoul.

2. West Coast blues (Financial Times)

The privatisation of Britain’s railways in the early 1990s was meant to end the inefficiencies that had characterised the former monopolist, British Rail. Unfortunately, results have not matched expectations, writes the Financial Times.

3. Be bold, Prime Minister, make Mr Cable your Home Secretary (The Telegraph)

A seismic shake-up of the Cabinet is the only option if the Tories are to revive their fortunes, argues Paul Goodman.

4. Euston, we have a problem (The Independent)

There are only two ways to make more money from the railways - increase fares or cut staff, writes Paul Vallely.

5. From Pussy Riot, a lesson in the power of punk (The Guardian)

Putin may have more serious critics, but Pussy Riot have shown the west how artistic dissent can still make a difference, writes John Harris.

6. The U-turn on social care is a small step towards a better Britain (The Guardian)

Capping care costs will ease a terror felt by many. But leaders must beware: disaster lurks in promises the coalition can't keep, writes Jackie Ashley.

7. Britain is ready for a highbrow PM (The Independent)

Bright politicians should learn that authenticity pays; dirty wars in leafy suburbia; and books that shape generations, writes DJ Taylor.

8. Michael Gove must be allowed to complete his quiet revolution (The Telegraph)

From top down to bottom up – a cultural transformation is under way in schools across the country, writes Matthew d'Ancona.

9. Hardly persecution, Mr Assange (The Independent)

Julian Assange's soaring rhetoric from the balcony of the embassy of Ecuador today was, by now, a rather familiar performance, writes The Independent.

10. The BBC boss off to New York to change the Times (Financial Times)

The hiring of Thompson shows the NYT is eyeing a digital future, writes Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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