Raheem Sterling put in a good performance. Photo: Getty
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England's impressive start to the World Cup: can they make it through the group of death?

Italy's star players prevailed, but Roy Hodgson's young team made a splash in their first game.

It is hard to remember England making a more impressive start in a major tournament, and hard also to feel other than encouraged by much of what we saw last night. From the moment that Raheem Sterling crashed his shot so narrowly wide in the opening minutes there was a feeling that this young side could achieve against the odds in their "group of death".

Italy are, however, experienced and tough competitors and it was the excellence of their star players that took them through. Hard, though, to disagree with Alan Shearer, who appears to have upped his game for the World Cup as a pundit in a way he never really did as a player, that Rooney's second-half miss was a crucial moment. "Wazza's" failure also to adapt to the defensive side of the role assigned to him left Baines regularly exposed down England's left flank. No doubt the press barons will give him no mercy, which is harsh since it was his superb cross that set up Sturridge's marvellous finish for England's quick-fire reply to Italy's well-worked opener. If there was scope for improvement in some aspects of the defensive performance, there was disappointment that our return from set pieces was minimal, whereas Italy threatened regularly from theirs.

So on to Thursday and Uruguay: the Suarez showdown. England's early contribution to this World Cup is so far impressive. Our young team have made a splash, Roy Hodgson demonstrates dignity and calm, looking perfectly at home at this level, keeping expectations to sensible proportions, and getting a real performance out of an inexperienced squad. On the political front Greg Dyke has emerged as a considerable figure on world football's administrative stage, a man of integrity leading Europe's challenge to Blatter's crass chicanery and deceit. In this respect we have taken the lead, and Germany with Beckenbauer, a sad disgraced figure, and Platini for UEFA and France compromised by his association with the Qatar bid have given us an unlikely starring role among Europe's superpowers.

Let us hope that our players have not given their best shot in defeat and the next two games give us an opportunity to make our presence felt at the highest and most important levels on the pitch. Come on England!

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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