CommentPlus: pick of the papers

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

1. Ed is the only Miliband who offers a genuine alternative (Guardian)

Seumas Milne endorses Ed Miliband and argues that while he represents a progressive alternative, David would return Labour to a failed Blairite yesterday.

2. MiliD is Labour's future, MiliE is just its past (Times)

But elsewhere, David Aaronovitch backs the elder Miliband and argues that he alone can lead Labour successfully.

3. Fairness should never be a numbers game (Financial Times)

Nick Clegg delivers a critical response to the Institute for Fiscal Studies report and argues that fairness cannot be based on income distribution alone.

4. A brand of austerity about as progressive as Thatcher's (Guardian)

But elsewhere, the Guardian's economics editor, Larry Elliott, says that Liberal greats such as Beveridge and Keynes would have shuddered at the coalition's regressive Budget.

5. Big Eric Pickles may not be beautiful, but he's the Tories' action man (Daily Telegraph)

The Communities Secretary is proving to be the unexpected star of the coalition, says Paul Goodman.

6. Blair's journey is Labour's problem (Independent)

As Tony Blair prepares to return to the political stage, Steve Richards says he has left his party a bewildering inheritance.

7. We mustn't talk Britain's economy down (Daily Telegraph)

The coalition needs to highlight the opportunities as well as the perils that lie ahead for the country, writes Richard Lambert.

8. Violence breeds violence. The only thing drug gangs fear is legalisation (Independent)

It is time to take the drugs trade back from murderous criminal gangs, argues Johann Hari.

9. Kyrgyzstan: the void in Asia's heart (Guardian)

The world paid little heed to the Kyrgyz pogroms, but the chaos of this failed state will spread, warns Louise Arbour.

10. MPs' expenses: abuse of power (Daily Telegraph)

Those MPs responsible for the abuse of expenses staff should be named and shamed, argues a Telegraph leader.

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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.