Morning Call: pick of the comment

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

1. Suddenly, grumpy old Gordon Brown doesn't look such a lost cause (Daily Telegraph)

The PM is an unlikely trump card for his party, says Mary Riddell, looking at recent polls. There is no way that Labour could win the next election, but David Cameron should be wary.

2. Mock this campaign if you like, but how else can Blair be held to account? (Guardian)

George Monbiot defends his campaign to pay a bounty to anyone who arrests Tony Blair. He says that with the limits of power in Britain so ill-defined, the only way a reckoning for Iraq will ever come is through a citizen's arrest.

3. A misreading of Iran that risks a fatal replay of Iraq (Independent)

Mary Dejevsky takes issue with Tony Blair's take on Iran, and US action in the area, as there is no sign that Tehran harbours malign or expansionist intentions, or even that a nuclear Iran would pose a global threat.

4. Tories should be most afraid of their own fear (Times)

David Cameron is at his best when he is at his boldest, argues Rachel Sylvester. But as the election approaches, a dangerous timidity is taking over.

5. Leaderless Nigeria could spin out of control (Financial Times)

Louise Arbour and Ayo Obe discuss the mounting political crisis in Nigeria in the absence of President Umaru Yar'Adua.

6. Afflictions of liberty (Guardian)

Tristram Riley-Smith notes that the word "liberty" was absent from Barack Obama's first State of the Union address -- he may have grasped that the ideal of freedom Americans cling to so fiercely is fracturing their society.

7. The peculiar urge to sack the England captain (Times)

Is adultery sufficient reason for sacking John Terry, asks David Aaronovitch? We are blasé about adultery; perhaps Terry's real crime is betraying a team-mate.

8. The Tories have had it easy too long (Independent)

Steve Richards says that he cannot recall an opposition that has changed its approach to tax/spend so often, and welcomes a new period of intense scrutiny of Conservative policy.

9. Companies need to recruit the older woman (Financial Times)

Women are now more educated than men in every age group up to 45, so why are there so few of them in the boardroom? Michael Skapinker looks at gender discrimination, and says older women should be reintegrated into the corporate world once their children are grown.

10. Free care sounds nice, but why redistribute to the rich? (Guardian)

Polly Toynbee discusses the personal care at home bill, saying that in pursuit of a gripping headline, Brown has scuppered a fair, sensible and long-term plan for care of the elderly.

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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.