Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

  1. Ed Balls was too prudent. We need full-throttle fury (Guardian)
    Labour's response to George Osborne's venomous attack on welfare and the poor was too cautious. Where is their passion, asks Polly Toynbee.
  2. Doreen Lawrence? Of course she was spied on (Independent)
    The usual response to anyone who questions the police is: “The innocent have nothing to fear.” How much more sodding innocent can you get than Doreen Lawrence, writes Mark Steel.
  3. Osborne's 'learn English or lose your benefits' is shameless scapegoating (Guardian)
    I work with migrants who are all desperate to learn English. The notion they are lazing and wasting our taxes isn't true, writes Ellie Mae O'Hagan.
  4. Britain needs an energy revolution – and quickly (Telegraph)
    The US is drilling tens of thousands of fracking wells every year - surely Britain could aim to reach at least a fraction of that total, writes the Telegraph in a leader.
  5. Cut the welfare bill. Pay people proper wages (Times)
    You can’t live a decent life on under £17,000 a year. Yet we expect those on the minimum wage to get by on far less, writes Philip Collins.
  6. Chin up, Mark Carney, things can’t get much worse (Telegraph)
    Disappoint? The new Governor of the Bank of England is more likely to succeed, writes Jeremy Warner.
  7. The leaders most likely to survive are those who will act on corruption and inequality (Financial Times)
    The leaders most likely to survive are those who will act on corruption and inequality, writes Philip Stephens.
  8. Build, build, build! Or rather, how dare you? (Times)
    Gaby Hinsliff recounts a battle with her inner Nimby.
  9. Britain let down by its bean-counting politicians (Financial Times)
    Ministers treat the economy as if it were a small shop writ large.
  10. A radical change to Tory immigration policy could transform 'shared values' into ethnic minority votes (Independent)
    It’s a cliché that many BME voters are naturally sympathetic to Conservative values, so why don't values make votes? An amnesty for illegal immigrants would make sense, writes Nadhim Zahawi.

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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