Comment Plus: pick of the papers

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

1. The Tea Party: lofty ideals, grubby facts (Guardian)

Far from being a grass-roots movement, the orginal "tea party" was brewed up by wealthy merchants, writes Tristram Hunt. Today, once more, corporate elites are winding up an angry populace.

2. Gordon Brown needs to focus fast on what women really want (Daily Telegraph)

The defection of female voters to the Tories could lose the government this election, says Mary Riddell. In order to win women back, Brown should avoid gimmicks and giveaways and focus on protecting public services.

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3. Cameron should be offering hope, not pain (Financial Times)

Philip Stephens argues that David Cameron's biggest mistake was to join George Osborne in promising a new "age of austerity". Until then, the Tory leader had defined himself as a centrist post-Thatcherite, more keen on healing society than on slashing public services.

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4. Polls do much more for the pollsters than for the public (Independent)

It would be marvellous to have an election campaign free of opinion polls, writes Dominic Lawson. The uncertainty about the outcome would likely produce a sharp rise in turnout and more discussion of the real issues.

5. It takes more than Play-Doh to plug a deficit (Times)

The Budge deficit cannot be reduced by cutting back on middle-class perks alone, writes Rachel Sylvester. The scope and remit of public services may have to change so they can stay universal.

6. Is this Labour's death rattle or a rare new optimism? (Guardian)

Michael White explores whether Labour's plans for high-speed rail and a national care service prove that the government has not run out of steam.

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7. Spare us from politicians and their "difficult decisions" (Daily Telegraph)

Politicians should simply say, in concrete terms, what their policies are and what the consequences will be, rather than using the disingenuous phrase "difficult decisions", says Michael Deacon.

8. Our attitude to kids shows we need to grow up (Times)

Our society's failure to treat child offenders as children feeds our vengeful instincts towards young killers and rapists, argues David Aaronovitch.

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9. The only question asked of Nick Clegg (Independent)

The national media are only interested in asking Clegg one question: what would you do in the event of a hung parliament? But, says Steve Richards, he does not know the answer and will not know it until the election is over.

10. Bubble or not, China's rise is real (Financial Times)

China's political system may be inherently unstable, writes Gideon Rachman, but the country has emerged as a far more serious challenge to US hegemony than Japan ever was.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.