Morning Call: pick of the comment

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

1. A political fight set to reach well beyond Britain's election (Financial Times)

Philip Stephens says that the tensions within Tory ranks are visible and that the price of winning will be higher than David Cameron thinks.

2. We don't need this culture of overwork (Independent)

Johann Hari warns that Britain's culture of long working hours is damaging the health of its population. He calls for a French-style 35-hour week.

3. Christelle and her baby died at the hands of a callous state (Guardian)

Jenni Russell argues that the suicide of a single mother shows a welfare state unable to respond to human need.

4.. These plotters lacked both common sense and principles (Independent)

Diane Abbott says that the "coup" leaders spent so long in the New Labour bubble that they forgot they were members of the Labour Party. And she argues that the big loser from this week is David Miliband.

5. The supermarkets must be brought to heel (Daily Telegraph)

The big supermarket chains threaten farmers' livelihoods and must be tightly regulated, says Charlie Brooks.

6. The worth of a pint (Guardian)

Richard Reeves criticises the "new temperance leaders" for ignoring the significant benefits of alcohol.

7. May I introduce the bloody-minded Icelanders (Times)

Roy Hattersley says that Iceland's threat to default on its debt to Britain should come as no surprise.

8. They are right to ban the burqa, even if it is for the wrong reasons (Independent)

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown argues that Europe should follow France's lead and "rethink a garment" that cuts women off from other citizens.

9. The world must not let Sudan return to war (Financial Times)

Lazaro Sumbeiwyo and John Danforth warn that without international assistance, Sudan may slide into civil war again.

10. Unknown unknowns (Times)

A leader in the Times warns that the risk of a double-dip recession is real but that no further fiscal stimulus is possible.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Liberal Democrats are back - and the Tories should be worried

A Liberal revival could do Theresa May real damage in the south.

There's life in the Liberal Democrats yet. The Conservative majority in Witney has been slashed, with lawyer and nominative determinism case study Robert Courts elected, but with a much reduced majority.

It's down in both absolute terms, from 25,155 to 5,702, but it's never wise to worry too much about raw numbers in by-elections. The percentages tell us a lot more, and there's considerable cause for alarm in the Tory camp as far as they are concerned: the Conservative vote down from 60 per cent to 45 per cent.

(On a side note, I wouldn’t read much of anything into the fact that Labour slipped to third. It has never been a happy hunting ground for them and their vote was squeezed less by the Liberal Democrats than you’d perhaps expect.)

And what about those Liberal Democrats, eh? They've surged from fourth place to second, a 23.5 per cent increase in their vote, a 19.3 swing from Conservative to Liberal, the biggest towards that party in two decades.

One thing is clear: the "Liberal Democrat fightback" is not just a hashtag. The party has been doing particularly well in affluent Conservative areas that voted to stay in the European Union. (It's worth noting that one seat that very much fits that profile is Theresa May's own stomping ground of Maidenhead.)

It means that if, as looks likely, Zac Goldsmith triggers a by-election over Heathrow, the Liberal Democrats will consider themselves favourites if they can find a top-tier candidate with decent local connections. They also start with their by-election machine having done very well indeed out of what you might call its “open beta” in Witney. The county council elections next year, too, should be low hanging fruit for 

As Sam Coates reports in the Times this morning, there are growing calls from MPs and ministers that May should go to the country while the going's good, calls that will only be intensified by the going-over that the PM got in Brussels last night. And now, for marginal Conservatives in the south-west especially, it's just just the pressure points of the Brexit talks that should worry them - it's that with every day between now and the next election, the Liberal Democrats may have another day to get their feet back under the table.

This originally appeared in Morning Call, my daily guide to what's going on in politics and the papers. It's free, and you can subscribe here. 

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