Morning call: the pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from the morning papers.

1. Our parties must rid themselves of this stench of nepotism (Guardian)

This week's low turnouts show that the public is losing interest in politics. Westminster has to stop keeping it in the family, writes John Harris.

2. There’s nothing hip about avoiding your taxes (Times) (£)

Cool capitalists think they are sticking it to the Man. But doing your share is a timeless mark of good citizenship, argues Janice Turner. 

3. Police and crime commissioners are good politics, so why didn’t the Tories say so? (Telegraph)

Despite the fiasco of the low turnout, the public have at last got power over the police, says Charles Moore.

4. Patten should defy his Tory foes and stay as chairman (Independent)

Lord McAlpine, like some Tory MPs, is gunning for his old foe to be ousted from the BBC, writes Andrew Grice.

5. Green Tories were never sustainable (Financial Times) (£)

Economic gloom has encouraged the government to shelve environmental concerns, says Janan Ganesh.

6. We’ve never had it so bad. Rejoice, rejoice! (Times) (£)

If you can keep your head while all around are losing theirs and blaming it on you ... you must be British, my son, says Matthew Parris. 

7. Twilight is not feminist: it's female masochism (Guardian)

This saga is a teen version of Fifty Shades of Grey and illustrates the growth of the loving-slave fantasy in popular fiction, writes Tanya Gold. 

8. In the Tower of Babel that is Twitter, silence descends (Independent)

Tweeters used to shrug and say, "Well that's just the internet", but Lord McAlpine's solicitors may have just changed Twitter for ever, writes Grace Dent.

9. Saving Britain's universities: The brains go into battle (Telegraph)

Some of the country’s most brilliant and brightest minds set course this week to save our universities from the dead hand of interfering politicians and bureaucrats, says Melvyn Bragg.

10. X marks the clot: David Cameron couldn't organise a vote in a polling booth (Mirror)

David Cameron goes down in history as the Tory leader who replaced democracy with empty ballot boxes, writes Kevin Maguire.
 

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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