CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. Prepare for a big progressive moment -- in the rematch (Guardian)

If Cameron and Clegg do a deal, says Jackie Ashley, Labour needs urgently to change leader, embrace voting reform and get ready to fight the next election, which could come as soon as this autumn.

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2. Lib Dems must talk to the Tories but they have more in common with Labour (Independent)

Andrew Grice points out that many Tories will not feel comfortable working with the Lib Dems, and the feeling is mutual. The party has more in common with Labour on the economy, Europe and constitutional reform.

3. Building bridges is the way to the future (Times)

Ken Macdonald argues that we need to look beyond modern parties to cleanse the political system of its toxins. This need not be frightening for the left -- there are now echoes of liberal values everywhere.

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4. Get Gordon Brown out of the bathroom and deal with the real problems (Daily Telegraph)

We need to avert our eyes from the soap opera and focus on the economy, argues Boris Johnson -- amid all the discussion of changing the voting system, there is a risk we will forget how it works.

5. The new MPs I'm glad to see (Independent)

The election delivered remarkably enlightened results, says Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. The number of black and Asian members of the House has gone up from 14 to 27.

6. The unappealing choices after an inconclusive election (Financial Times)

Niall Ferguson agrees that the economy is paramount, and looks at ways to deal with this simultaneously, fashioning a decent stretch of Conservative government from the unpromising result of this election.

7. The people have spoken. Don't let the markets shout them down (Guardian)

Gary Younge argues that the clash of democracy and capitalism is as acute as ever, as a discredited financial sector seeks to dictate political terms.

8. Just do it (Times)

The editorial argues that, for both David Cameron and Nick Clegg, the benefits of a deal far outweigh the risks. The national interest, and their own, demand that they reach an agreement.

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9. Mr Clegg should act in the national interest (Independent)

There is scope for agreement between the Tories and the Lib Dems, says the leading article, but Clegg should walk away from any deal that doesn't include a cast-iron commitment to comprehensive voting reform.

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10. America has good reason to worry about Greece (Financial Times)

Clive Crook discusses the Greek crisis. Until now, the US has treated Greece as a European problem that could be left to the EU to solve, but parts of that supposition have turned out to be wrong.

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How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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