CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. Cameron's Tories point to isolation (Financial Times)

If the Tories win the election, they will find themselves oddly isolated from mainstream conservatism in both the US and Europe, writes Gideon Rachman. David Cameron's decision to distance his party from the US has left it without any coherent focus for its foreign policy.

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2. Gordon Brown must now tell the voters why they deserve more of him (Daily Telegraph)

It is not enough for Brown to offer a demolition of the opposition's economic policies, writes Mary Riddell; he needs to create a sense of optimism. He should begin by promising not to raise VAT.

3. Thirteen years on, New Labour has come full circle (Times)

Like the Conservatives in 1997, Labour has decided to pursue a strategy of fear, not hope, writes Rachel Sylvester. It is the Tories whose theme will be "Things can only get better".

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4. Hacks and the Yard? We're still asking (Guardian)

Scotland Yard has gone to extraordinary lengths to suppress evidence of the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World, says Nick Davies. But despite the Yard's attempt to mislead the public and the press, the questions will not go away.

5. Obama's 21st-century world order (Independent)

Barack Obama's instinct in devising foreign policy reflects an unusual ability to see the other side's point of view, writes Mary Dejevsky. By abolishing talk of the "axis of evil" and appealing directly to Iranians, he has made it harder to demonise the US.

6. South Africa will survive the killing of a neofascist -- like in 1994 (Guardian)

The murder of Eugene Terre'Blanche will not be the spark for a race war, writes Gillian Slovo. His Afrikaner Resistance Movement suffered an irreparable defeat at the time of the 1994 election.

7. An amazing Afrikaner -- wrong about everything (Times)

Elsewhere, Hugo Rifkind says that Terre'Blanche may have exploited the language of a segregationist, but he was actually something far worse -- a racial supremacist.

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8. Israel knows apartheid has no future (Financial Times)

After decades of illegally occupying Palestinian land, Israeli leaders are finally acknowledging reality, writes Mustafa Barghouthi.

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9. I wish I'd had the NI policy to call on as a Tory candidate (Independent)

The former Tory MP Michael Brown says that although the party's pledge to reverse Labour's planned National Insurance increase may be dodgy economics, it is also smart politics. The Tories have armed their candidates with the ammunition they will need on the doorstep.

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10. The election for change (Times)

In a special full-length editorial, the Times sets out the changes it wants to see in Britain over the next five years.

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Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

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

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