CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. Nick Clegg held on in a gripping debate. This will go to the wire (Guardian)

David Cameron and Gordon Brown both went up a gear in last night's televised debate, says Martin Kettle, but Nick Clegg impressively consolidated his performance. TheLib Dems are in it to the finish.

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2. Voters have waited for this for years (Times)

Policies and ties don't matter, argues David Aaronovitch. Whether this perception is accurate or not, Clegg represents the break from stale two-party politics that many crave.

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3. The forces blocking British democracy (Independent)

Cameron is concealing his real agenda of tax cuts for the rich and lower public spending, because the polling and focus groups indicate that the public will loathe it. That's why his performances in this campaign are so stilted, says Johann Hari.

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4. Britain's election debate is rewriting the political rules (Financial Times)

No-one knows what the outcome of the election will be, says Philip Stephens. The campaign is now about what voters think of politics and politicians.

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5. Who's afraid of a big bad hung Parliament? (Times)

Only in Britain are coalition or minority governments seen as dangerous. Peter Riddell advises that we look abroad to see how they can work.

6. Being patriotic doesn't make you a fascist (Daily Telegraph)

Billy Bragg -- fresh from a clash with a BNP member in Barking -- discusses the rise of the far right. Without its own parliament, it is no wonder that England's nationalism has been hijacked.

7. Danger lurks everywhere. Let the pilots handle ash (Guardian)

Simon Jenkins criticises the response to the volcanic ash cloud. As with terrorism, swine flu and now aviation, the scientists offer absolutes rather than probabilities and the authorities panic.

8. The sad return of state worship (Financial Times)

British liberties have been steadily eroded by recent governments, writes Samuel Brittan, drawing a link between economic policy and issues of personal freedom.

9. I have a future. So many Afghans my age don't (Times)

As the leaders last night debated foreign affairs, a young refugee, Hewod Azizjan, reflects on the conflict as seen from Britain and his home country.

10. Bolivia's fight for survival can help save democracy too (Guardian)

Naomi Klein writes from the world climate change summit in Bolvia. This people's summit is a radical, transformative response to the failure of the Copenhagen club, that could save our democracy as well as our warming planet.

 

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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

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