Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Tory free-market hurricane will blow our NHS apart (Guardian)

David Cameron's silken words won't hide the grim truth, writes Polly Toynbee. This week's Health and Social Care Bill will turn a unified health service into a purchasing agency.

2. The last thing the NHS needs is more reform (Daily Mirror)

Cameron promised to protect health service spending and to avoid "top-down reorganisations". He is about to break both promises, says Robert Winston.

3. Rushed reform can seriously damage health (Times) (£)

Even Cameron is jittery about his Health Secretary's plan to "throw a hand grenade" into the NHS, writes Rachel Sylvester.

4. US democracy has little to teach China (Financial Times)

The American system shows little appetite for dealing with long-term fiscal challenges, writes Francis Fukuyama.

5. A dangerous liaison for Cameron – an emerging Lib-Lab pact (Daily Telegraph)

Relations between Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg – and their parties – are thawing rapidly, says Mary Riddell.

6. "Alarm Clock Britain" is the new political label for hard-working ordinary people. How patronising (Daily Mail)

If you exclude rock stars and the unemployed, it's hard to think of anyone who is not an Alarm Clock Hero, writes John Humphrys.

7. Eco-terrorism: the non-existent threat we spend millions policing (Guardian)

Acpo is a state-sanctioned private militia, fighting public protest on behalf of corporations, writes George Monbiot.

8. A revolution that shows Cameron in his true colours (Independent)

Approve or disapprove of the coalition's reforms, the new health policy marks the end of the NHS, says Steve Richards.

9. Beijing feels that time is on its side (Financial Times)

Post-crisis, Americans are taking a less benign view of China, writes Gideon Rachman.

10. Yes, bonuses do work – but for fruit-pickers, not City bankers (Guardian)

The justification that banks need to fork out huge payouts to retain top talent is a fallacy, argues Aditya Chakrabortty.

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.

0800 7318496