Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The bombing continues until Gaddafi goes (Times) (£)

David Cameron, Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy write that the Libyan leader will make his country a pariah state. To leave him in power would be an unconscionable betrayal.

2. Forty nations made a pact on Libya – now they have to act on it (Daily Telegraph)

The main burden of the military effort in Libya is falling on just two of the 40 or so countries involved in the Nato mission, writes Con Coughlin.

3. Obama's fightback has begun (Financial Times)

The Republicans can scarcely contain their glee that the president has entered the 2012 election campaign championing tax hikes, writes Simon Schama.

4. This royal frenzy should embarrass us all (Independent)

Johann Hari maintains that republicans are not the Grinch, trying to ruin the "big day" for William and Kate: they are proposing a positive vision.

5. Labour must change its tune to the new blues (Times) (£)

An embryonic alliance between the party's co-operative roots and its Blairite rump could be its way back to power, says Philip Collins.

6. Policing demonstrations: grounds for protest (Guardian)

It is increasingly clear that something had gone badly awry with the Met's handling of protests in 2009, says an editorial.

7. Cameron's cynical and disappointing approach to immigration (Independent)

A leading article argues that the true objective of the speech was to shore up Tory support ahead of next month's local elections.

8. Talking tough (Times) (£)

The apparent schism in the coalition over immigration is more tactical than real, says this leading article.

9. The IMF needs to find its voice again (Financial Times)

The old consensus against capital controls was not mere dogma. Most of the time they don't work, argues Sebastian Mallaby.

10. The banks needed Scarman's cold eye, but Vickers blinked (Guardian)

The report on Britain's inner-city riots 30 years ago changed police behaviour, says Martin Kettle. Today's Vickers commission on banking makes proposals to fit our timorous times.

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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