Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The Lib Dems aren't going to rescue themselves by being timid (Observer)
They need to be seen as kinder than the Tories, safer with the economy than Labour and more radical than either, says Andrew Rawnsley

2. You'll be sorry as the wolves circle, Clegg (Sunday Times £)
Leaders are now suspiciously quick to resort to "sorry", says Martin Ivens

3. I don't believe Mitchell said the P-word (Sunday Telegraph)
The Chief Whip has a temper but it's not in him to use the word "pleb", say Matthew d'Ancona

4. The key pillars of our economy need reshaping, starting with finance (Observer)
The first in a three-part series, by Will Hutton

5. Can "three jobs" Laws really save the Lib Dems? (Daily Mail)
He is said to be working 20 hours a day, says James Forsyth

6. An EU referendum could be the crucial moment of David Cameron's career (Sunday Telegraph)
The outcome could mark Cameron as one of history's consequential Prime Ministers

7. Clegg's apology hands leadership to to Cable (Independent on Sunday)
The leader is stalked by his more popular rival, says John Rentoul

8. Mitchell must go, then we can discuss policing (Independent on Sunday)
The snobbish outburst of a cabinet minister shouldn't stop a debate about policing

9. Nick's sorry? Yeah, and the dog ate my homework (Daily Mail)
Clegg's hollow excuses have make him look like a man in a sorry state, says Viv Groskop

10. Troll away, vile trolls, you're doing us a service (Sunday Times £)
Free speech has no boundaries, says India Knight

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How worried are Labour MPs about losing their seats?

Despite their party's abysmal poll ratings, MPs find cause for optimism on the campaign trail. 

Labour enters the general election with subterranean expectations. A "good result", MPs say, would be to retain 180-200 of their 229 MPs. Some fear a worse result than 1935, when the party won just 154 seats. Rather than falling, the Conservatives' poll lead has risen as the prospect of electing a government concentrates minds (last night's YouGov survey, showing the Tories a mere 16 points ahead, was an exception).

Though Conservative strategists insist they could lose the election, in an attempt to incentivise turnout, their decision to target Labour MPs with majorities as high as 8,000 shows the scale of their ambitions (a Commons majority of circa 150 seats). But as well as despair, there is hope to be found in the opposition's ranks.

Though MPs lament that Jeremy Corbyn is an unavoidable drag on their support, they cite four reasons for optimism. The first is their local reputation, which allows them to differentiate themselves from the national party (some quip that the only leaflets on which Corbyn will feature are Tory ones). The second is that since few voters believe the Labour leader can become Prime Minister, there is less risk attached to voting for the party (a point some MPs make explicit) "The problem with Ed Miliband and the SNP in 2015 was that it was a plausible scenario," a shadow minister told me. "It was quite legitimate for voters to ask us the question we didn't want to answer: 'what would you do in a hung parliament?' If voters have a complaint it's usually about Jeremy but it's not the case that he looks like he can become prime minister."

The third reason is the spectre of an omnipotent Tory government. MPs appeal to voters not to give Theresa May a "free hand" and to ensure there is some semblance of an opposition remains. Finally, MPs believe there is an enduring tribal loyalty to Labour, which will assert itself as polling day approaches. Some liken such voters to sports fans, who support their team through thick and thin, regardless of whether they like the manager. Outgoing MP Michael Dugher (who I interviewed this week) was told by an elderly woman: "Don't worry, love, I will still vote Labour. I vote for you even when you're rubbish."

Ben Bradshaw, the long-serving MP for Exter, who has a majority of 7,183, told me: "We're not anything for granted of course. On the current national polling, the Tories would take Exeter. But having covered five polling districts, although the leadership is undoubtedly a big issue on the doorstep, most people say they'll still vote for me as their local MP and we're not detecting any significant shift away from 2015. Which is slightly puzzling given the chasm in the opinion polls." Bradshaw also promotes himself as "the only non-Tory MP in the south-west outside Bristol": a leaflet shows a blue-splattered map with a lone red dot. The Labour MP warns voters not to be left in a "one-party state". 

As in 2010, Labour may yet retain more seats than its vote share suggests (aided by unchanged boundaries). But the fate of the Liberal Democrats in 2015 - when the party was reduced from 56 MPs to eight - shows that local reputations are worth less than many suppose. Theresa May has succeeded in framing herself as a figure above party interests, who needs a "strong hand" in the Brexit negotiations. At the very moment when a vigorous opposition is needed most, Labour has rarely been weaker. And when the public turn resolutely against a party, even the best men and women are not spared.  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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