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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You may call me a monster – but I'm glad that girl's lemonade stall got shut down

What's wrong with hard-working public servants enforcing perfectly sensible regulations?

Who could fail to be moved by the widely shared tears of a five year old whose innocent lemonade stall was brutally shut down by evil bureaucrats? What sort of monster would not have their heartstrings tugged by the plaintive “I've done a bad thing” from a girl whose father tells us she “just wanted to put a smile on people's faces”?

Well me, actually.

There are half a million cases of food poisoning each year in the UK, and one of the reasons we have stringent controls on who can sell food and drink, especially in unsealed containers, is to try to cut those figures down. And street stalls in general are regulated because we have a system of taxation, rights and responsibilities in this country which underpins our functioning society. Regulation is a social and economic good.

It’s also pretty unfair to criticise the hard-working public servants who acted in this case for doing the job they are no doubt underpaid to do. For the council to say “we expect our enforcement officers to show common sense” as they cancelled the fine is all very well, but I’m willing to bet they are given precious little leeway in their training when it comes to who gets fined and who doesn’t. If the council is handing out apologies, it likely should be issuing one to its officers as well.

“But these are decent folk being persecuted by a nanny state,” I hear you cry. And I stand impervious, I’m afraid. Because I’ve heard that line a lot recently and it’s beginning to grate.

It’s the same argument used against speed cameras and parking fines. How often have you heard those caught out proclaim themselves as “law-abiding citizens” and bemoan the infringement of their freedom? I have news for you: if you break the speed limit, or park illegally, or indeed break health and safety or trading regulations, you are not a law-abiding citizen. You’re actually the one who’s in the wrong.

And rarely is ignorance an excuse. Speed limits and parking regulations are posted clearly. In the case of the now famous lemonade stand, the father in question is even quoted as saying “I thought that they would just tell us to pack up and go home.” So he knew he was breaking the rules. He just didn’t think the consequences should apply to him.

A culture of entitlement, and a belief that rules are for other people but not us, is a disease gripping middle Britain. It is demonstrated in many different ways, from the driver telling the cyclist that she has no right to be on the road because she doesn’t pay road tax (I know), to the father holding up his daughter’s tears to get out of a fine.

I know, I’m a monster. But hooray for the enforcers, I say.

Duncan Hothersall is the editor of Labour Hame