Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Don't blame the ratings agencies for the eurozone turmoil (Guardian)

Europe and the eurozone are strangling themselves with a toxic mixture of austerity and a structurally flawed financial system, says Ha-Joon Chang.

2. The SNP can't make the rules and be the ref (Times) (£)

When it comes to the vote it will be about the questions the Nationalists refuse to answer, says Jim Murphy.

3. For too many African-Americans, prison is a legacy passed from father to son (Guardian)

Today is Martin Luther King Day, writes Gary Younge. But with more African-American men facing jail than were enslaved in 1870, there is little to celebrate.

4. What happens when even your supporters don't believe in you? (Independent)

The problem is that Ed Miliband is too clever, unlike Neil Kinnock, who didn't seem clever enough, says Mary Ann Sieghart.

5. There is a golden opportunity to be seized in Asia (Daily Telegraph)

A strong relationship with Asia is a central part of the government's economic strategy, writes George Osborne.

6. After the downgrades comes the downward spiral (Financial Times)

The eurozone has exhausted its toolkit, says Wolfgang Munchau.

7. The only way to save the Union is to stop throwing cash at the Scots - and treat them as equals (Daily Mail)

Cameron should reduce or abolish altogether those anachronistic subsidies from Westminster, argues Melanie Phillips.

8. The Costa Concordia disaster highlights the dangers of super-sized cruise ships (Guardian)

Rapid developments in passenger shipping have not kept pace with safety requirements: this is a wake-up call to the industry, says Andrew Linington.

9. The Church of England needs to forget its silliness about homosexuality (Independent)

The Church's double-speak condemns people to a life without the joy of sexual intimacy, says Chris Bryant.

10. When a Tea Party-style folly comes to Nigeria (Financial Times)

Petrol-subsidy protests are against much needed reform, writes Paul Collier.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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