CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. Labour has forgotten how to box clever on "tax and spend" (Independent)

Labour failed to make the political and economic case for a rise in National Insurance, writes Steve Richards, allowing the Tories to get away with contradictory proposals. The party now finds itself on the back foot on tax and spend for the first time since 1992.

Read the full CommentPlus summary.

2. No, Gordon Brown, we have not been deceived (Times)

Elsewhere, Simon Wolfson, chief executive of Next, attacks Brown's claim that business leaders have been deceived by the Tories. Everyone knows there are huge savings to be made in the public sector.

3. The Tories can't muzzle election talk of Europe (Guardian)

The Tories' hostility to the European Union will return to haunt them, predicts Timothy Garton Ash. Britain's European partners are in no mood to renegotiate anything, let alone do any favours to a new Conservative government.

Read the full CommentPlus summary.

4. Look beyond the spin to find candidates with character (Daily Telegraph)

A large number of authentic and independent-minded candidates has emerged in this election campaign, writes Benedict Brogan. Nigel Farage in Buckingham, Caroline Lucas in Brighton and Esther Rantzen in Luton are all evidence of a sea change.

Read the full CommentPlus summary.

5. The iPad's scary counter-revolution (Financial Times)

The iPad may generally be good news for publishers but there's a catch, warns John Gapper: only those with the ability to create original multimedia content will thrive on this platform.

6. Dave may be popular, but there's danger in the Tories becoming a one-man band (Daily Mail)

Given that he does not have the extraordinary appeal of a Tony Blair, David Cameron must present himself as part of a team, writes Stephen Glover. The Tories have several big hitters who can give a good account of themselves.

7. The real political battle will begin after the election (Guardian)

Even more important than who wins the election will be the struggle over what to put in place of a failed neoliberal model, argues Seumas Milne.

8. Nobody will use the "D" word (Independent)

Britain's £167bn Budget deficit has been written out of the script as politicians replace hard choices with soft options, writes Andrew Grice.

9. Progress and democracy collide in India (Financial Times)

India must work out how to reconcile development with indigenous land rights, writes David Pilling.

Read the full CommentPlus summary.

10. The Tories' policies on economic change fall short of the rhetoric (Daily Telegraph)

The Conservatives are so scared of overturning the status quo that they will not adopt desperately needed financial reforms, says Edmund Conway.

Sign up now to CommentPlus for the pick of the day's opinion, comment and analysis in your inbox at 8am, every weekday.

Show Hide image

Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.