Morning Call: pick of the comment

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

1. There is more than cowardice that stands between Labour and regicide (Guardian)

Jonathan Freedland says that the lack of a clear challenger to Gordon Brown and the absence of an alternative programme mean that the Prime Minister is likely to survive again.

2. I know a man who can keep the New Labour flame burning (Independent)

John Rentoul argues that the next leader of the Labour Party should be -- and probably will be -- David Miliband.

3. General election 2010: time for the traditional bluster, bombast and lies (Daily Telegraph)

Simon Heffer says that both Labour and the Tories have duped the voters. He calls on Nick Clegg to provide an alternative to such deception.

4. Cameron will not break his vow on marriage (Times)

Daniel Finkelstein argues that David Cameron will not break his pledge to recognise marriage in the tax system. The Tory leader may introduce only a small tax break, but he regards the message as more important than the money.

5. The cause of our crises has not gone away (Financial Times)

John Kay warns that the conditions for a repeat of the financial crisis are in place and that even if there is a will to respond to the next crisis, the capacity to do so may not be there.

6. Walk of shame (Times)

A leader argues that while the Islamist march at Wootton Bassett may be deeply offensive, it should not be banned. The test of a fair society is how it deals with that which its majority finds objectionable.

7. High-speed rail will bleed us all for a few rich travellers (Guardian)

Simon Jenkins argues that the case for high-speed rail has yet to be proven. Upgrading and properly managing the existing railway may be better value for money than a project costing untold billions.

8. Great opportunities are open to the Liberal Democrats (Independent)

A leader says that Nick Clegg is right not to commit to either Labour or the Tories but that he must now prove his "seriousness of intent".

9. The eurozone's next decade will be tough (Financial Times)

Martin Wolf says that with no willing spender of last resort, the weaker members of the eurozone are unlikely to receive much help.

10. Marriage is no rose garden, and the Tory party knows it (Guardian)

Amelia Gentleman urges the Tories to look beyond marriage as a solution to societal breakdown. Cameron should spend whatever money there is on better schools and housing.

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

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