Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Andrew Mitchell isn't the only Tory for whom this saga bodes ill. David Cameron is rightly worried too (Independent)

With elections for police commissioners on the horizon, the timing could hardly be worse for the Tories, says Steve Richards. Their new Chief Whip's job just got much harder.

2. Tax on wealth is true to Tory principles (Financial Times)

There is nothing Thatcherite about backing established wealth and there are not many votes in it, writes Janan Ganesh.

3. Osborne is sharpening his axe – but will Cameron let him use it? (Daily Telegraph)

Ministers wonder whether Cameron will be ready to defy those who insist that the economy cannot withstand any further reduction in demand, writes Benedict Brogan.

4. Mitt Romney and the myth of self-created millionaires (Guardian)

The parasitical ultra-rich often deny the role of others in the acquisition of their wealth – and even seek to punish them for it, says George Monbiot.

5. India is part of an upside-down world (Financial Times)

With more poor than Africa and more billionaires than Britain, the country is both rich and poor, writes Gideon Rachman.

6. Police v Mitchell: this looks a lot like revenge (Times) (£)

Regardless of who is right about ‘plebs’, just look at the track record of the police and you see the need for reform, says Hugo Rifkind.

7. This pleb jibe exposes the Tories' Flashman thinking (Guardian)

David Cameron and Andrew Mitchell rule for 'people like us', writes Polly Toynbee. The Lib Dems should never be complicit in their attacks on the poor.

8. The pensions revolution arriving by stealth (Daily Telegraph)

Half the country may not know it, but a huge change is coming in the way we pay for old age, says Philip Johnston.

9. The rich are paying their fair share (Independent)

The Lib Dems say we should tax the rich more, writes Dominic Lawson. But the numbers prove that would not address the real problem.

10. Hands off our homes (Guardian)

From London to the Lake District, the wealthy are buying properties they rarely use, writes Simon Hughes. Councils need powers to prevent this.

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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