Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The Tories keep swiping, but Ed Miliband is an elusive target (Daily Telegraph)

In the political hall of mirrors, Labour’s policies are becoming ever harder to attack, says Mary Riddell.

2. Austerity will give Tories an electoral edge (Financial Times)

Conservative spending cuts are decreasing the opposition’s client base, says Janan Ganesh.

3. The elastic middle has to be defined, once and for all (Guardian)

Politicians should be clear about who is really struggling, says Gaby Hinsliff. It's not those who have been forced to kick their Waitrose habits.

4. Obama is not to blame for Middle East anger (Financial Times)

The policies pursued by Obama mean that the US is much better positioned to deal with anti-American violence, writes Gideon Rachman.

5. Is this Britain's last coalition government? (Independent)

Coalition often works well at local level, writes Steve Richards. But several factors, including the electoral system, may limit how many national ones we get.

6. Parties must stop playing unhappy families (Times) (£)

A toxic combination of troubled history and flawed political genes is afflicting all sides at Westminster, writes Rachel Sylvester.

7. Overhauling exams: lessons in nostalgia (Guardian)

A lurch back to a world where a three-hour written paper is the be-all and end-all risks jettisoning advances in education, says a Guardian editorial.

8. China is flexing its muscles: time to worry (Independent)

It would be crazy if a bunch of five uninhabited rocks precipitated a military conflict between two of the world powers, says Dominic Lawson. That doesn't mean it won't happen.

9. The welfare state is broken – so what’s next? (Daily Telegraph)

To promote prudence and responsibility, we should return to mutual aid societies, argues Philip Johnston.

10. Liberal Democrats should beware a pact with Labour (Guardian)

Working for a future coalition with Labour is deeply dangerous for our identity as a Liberal party, writes Malcolm Bruce.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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