Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Barack Obama and David Cameron are now both on the back foot (Guardian)

After Ed Miliband and Mitt Romney's surprise performances, the incumbents are under intense pressure to hit back soon, writes Jonathan Freedland.

2. David Cameron may not like it, but he’s been hit by a hurricane (Daily Telegraph)

The Prime Minister must convince Tories, as Mrs Thatcher did, that the recovery is his personal mission, says Charles Moore.

3. To know the beast you must face it in its lair (Times) (£)

They say party conferences are irrelevant, writes Matthew Parris. But this is where future leaders are forged and reveal their true nature

4. Osborne endures in hope of vindication (Financial Times)

The chancellor is biding his time as an election approaches, writes Janan Ganesh.

5. The Conservatives can be the new workers' party (Guardian)

For the Tories to gain a majority, David Cameron must push for blue-collar modernisation and a war on joblessness, says Neil O'Brien.

6. How Mr Cameron could win the next election (Daily Mail)

An unequivocal pledge to hold an in-out EU referendum would give the Tories a chance of winning a majority, says Simon Heffer.

7. Ed Miliband's One Nation conference speech was political transvestism at its most stylish (Independent)

Anyone half-worth electing has stolen their opponents' clothes, but for transvestism not to collapse into drag, it must be sustained and convincing, says Chris Bryant.

8. Maria Miller, a very modern feminist? Don't make me laugh (Guardian)

The minister for women lacks the courage to be pro-life, but can't understand why less privileged women choose abortion, writes Tanya Gold.

9. The Tories must prove they are willing to fight (Daily Telegraph)

As they gather in Birmingham for this year’s conference, the Tories need to recapture the spirit of 2007, says a Telegraph leader.

10. Impenitent Marxist and free thinker (Financial Times)

Hobsbawm was beloved even of those who do not share his politics, says Christopher Caldwell.

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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.