CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. Lab-Lib -- the only legitimate coalition (Guardian)

The legitimacy of a Lab-Lib coalition is based on the reality that Britain is a social-democratic, not a Conservative country, says Polly Toynbee. Most who voted Lib Dem would feel betrayed if Nick Clegg sided with the Tories.

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2. A good man, who wanted the top job too much (Times)

The real Gordon Brown possessed the qualities that make a great prime minister, writes Roy Hattersley. But during his 13 years in government, the real Brown was too often obsessed with political respectability and orthodoxy.

3. A Lib Dem pact risks Labour's survival (Guardian)

A rainbow coalition, propped up by unreliable nationalist parties, would result in a huge defeat for Labour at the next election, warns David Blunkett.

4. A resignation that changes everything (Independent)

But elsewhere, Steve Richards says that the Lib Dems must seize the chance to change the political landscape, rather than prop up a largely unreformed Conservative Party.

5. Britain too has to convince the markets (Financial Times)

If the next government is to have any chance of tackling the Budget deficit it must announce hefty tax increases in addition to unprecedented spending cuts, argues Philip Stephens.

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6. It's a fight for power: purists v pragmatists (Times)

The choice all parties now face is between compromising to win power and retaining the purity of opposition, says Rachel Sylvester.

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7. Locking out voters is not exactly democratic (Daily Telegraph)

The simplest way to reform the chaotic voting process is to move election day from Thursday to Sunday, writes Philip Johnston.

8. I share their despair, but I'm not quite ready to climb the Dark Mountain (Guardian)

The Dark Mountain Project wishes for the collapse of industrial civilisation, but it ignores the environmental technology that could prove our saviour, says George Monbiot.

9. A small nudge towards breaking the conservative grip on the judiciary (Independent)

Barack Obama's appointment of Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court will begin to break the conservative grip on the judiciary, writes Rupert Cornwell.

10. Germany pays for Merkel's miscalculations (Financial Times)

Angel Merkel failed to prepare Germany for her U-turn on the Greek bailout and is now suffering the consequences, says Wolfgang Münchau.

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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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