Morning call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from the Sunday papers.

1. It's the party leaders' debates -- cue the yawn-ometer (Sunday Times)

It would be a genuine loss if the party leaders used the heavily rehearsed TV debates as an excuse not to enter the Newsnight studios during the campaign, says Dominic Lawson.

2. The Ashcroft saga shows why the Tories need to embrace transparency (Sunday Telegraph)

It is pointless to preach the virtues of open government if your own party is being economical with the actualité, argues Matthew d'Ancona.

3. What are you afraid of, Dave? (Independent on Sunday)

The Sindie leading article agrees, saying that the Ashcroft affair undermines our confidence that David Cameron possesses the judgement required to be a successful prime minister.

4. Lord Ashcroft: worse than a crime, a mistake (Sunday Times)

Martin Ivens thinks that the whole process should be tightened up: if the state really feels the need to bestow honours, only people who pay British taxes in full should get them.

5. Carol, if you fancy politics -- get elected first (Observer)

Gabby Hinsliff says that Carol Vorderman's performance on Question Time proves that celebrities can't become politicians overnight.

6. Cam heading for a flip-flop (Sunday Mirror)

David Cameron likes to present himself as a candidate for change, but from what and to what, asks the New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley.

7. Get downwind of a senior Tory and you'll smell the anxious sweat (Observer)

Andrew Rawnsley looks at what has gone wrong with the Tory campaign. With the damage done to Cameron's claim to offer a fresh start to Britain, it is no longer outlandish to wonder if Gordon Brown might stay in office.

8. Your choice: the old politics, or the new (Independent on Sunday)

The electorate is weary of two-party wrangling and tactical voting. The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, urges Britain to vote for a third option that breaks new ground.

9. As chancellor, Gordon Brown did not understand defence (Sunday Telegraph)

Following the Prime Minister's appearance at the Iraq inquiry on Friday, the former chief of the army General Sir Richard Dannatt says that Brown knows the importance of the armed forces now -- but, when he was chancellor, it was a different story.

10. A unique chance to hold Europe together must not be wasted (Observer)

Will Hutton discusses the role of Baroness Ashton. Charged with creating coherence between 27 countries on foreign and security policy, she must stamp her authority on the individual countries that would undermine her.

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Beware, hard Brexiteers - Ruth Davidson is coming for you

The Scottish Conservative leader is well-positioned to fight. 

Wanted: Charismatic leader with working-class roots and a populist touch who can take on the Brexiteers, including some in the government, and do so convincingly.

Enter Ruth Davidson. 

While many Tory MPs quietly share her opposition to a hard Brexit, those who dare to be loud tend to be backbenchers like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan. 

By contrast, the Scottish Conservative leader already has huge credibility for rebuilding her party north of the border. Her appearances in the last days of the EU referendum campaign made her a star in the south as well. And she has no qualms about making a joke at Boris Johnson’s expense

Speaking at the Institute of Directors on Monday, Davidson said Brexiteers like Nigel Farage should stop “needling” European leaders.

“I say to the Ukip politicians, when they chuckle and bray about the result in June, grow up,” she declared. “Let us show a bit more respect for these European neighbours and allies.”

Davidson is particularly concerned that Brexiteers underestimate the deeply emotional and political response of other EU nations. 

The negotiations will be 27 to 1, she pointed out: “I would suggest that macho, beer swilling, posturing at the golf club bar isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

At a time when free trade is increasingly a dirty word, Davidson is also striking in her defence of the single market. As a child, she recalls, every plate of food on the table was there because her father, a self-made businessman, had "made stuff and sold it abroad". 

She attacked the Daily Mail for its front cover branding the judges who ruled against the government’s bid to trigger Article 50 “enemies of the people”. 

When the headline was published, Theresa May and Cabinet ministers stressed the freedom of the press. By contrast, Davidson, a former journalist, said that to undermine “the guardians of our democracy” in this way was “an utter disgrace”. 

Davidson might have chosen Ukip and the Daily Mail to skewer, but her attacks could apply to certain Brexiteers in her party as well. 

When The Staggers enquired whether this included the Italy-baiting Foreign Secretary Johnson, she launched a somewhat muted defence.

Saying she was “surprised by the way Boris has taken to the job”, she added: “To be honest, when you have got such a big thing happening and when you have a team in place that has been doing the preparatory work, it doesn’t make sense to reshuffle the benches."

Nevertheless, despite her outsider role, the team matters to Davidson. Part of her electoral success in Scotland is down the way she has capitalised on the anti-independence feeling after the Scottish referendum. If the UK heads for a hard Brexit, she too will have to fend off accusations that her party is the party of division. 

Indeed, for all her jibes at the Brexiteers, Davidson has a serious message. Since the EU referendum, she is “beginning to see embryos of where Scotland has gone post-referendum”. And, she warned: “I do not think we want that division.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.