Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Mohamed Morsi and the fight for Egypt (Guardian)

President Morsi says his power grab is temporary, writes Magdi Abdelhadi. But history shows that such measures have a habit of becoming permanent.

2. Will Cameron slot in the missing piece of Beveridge’s jigsaw? (Daily Telegraph)

At last, the coalition is poised to end the dithering over properly funded social care, writes Mary Riddell.

3. Obama must do more than raise taxes (Financial Times)

The president should be bold and aim for true fiscal stability, writes Sebastian Mallaby.

4. Bullies and the need for a free press (Daily Mail)

Statutory regulation would mean we lose the best characteristics of the press — but keep the worst, says David Davis.

5. The elite's fear of a vote on Europe feeds a populist right (Guardian)

Rotherham's race rows may be a taste of toxicity to come, says Seumas Milne. Labour support for a referendum would help draw the poison.

6. Don’t sack the manager. Think of Ken Clarke (Times) (£)

Political form, like footballing form, doesn’t really exist, writes Daniel Finkelstein. What matters is long-term class.

7. Japan’s nationalism is a sign of weakness (Financial Times)

If the country looks inward, both it and the world will be worse off, writes Joseph Nye.

8. This bid to force all schools into line will end in failure (Guardian)

The craving for uniformity in public services has become a frenzy, but Michael Gove cannot run every classroom, writes Simon Jenkins.

9. Mark Carney: A Canadian we can bank on (Daily Telegraph)

There is much the Chancellor can learn from the Bank of England’s new Governor – if he’ll listen, writes Allister Heath.

10. For all the misery and nuisance they cause, league tables are a necessary part of public service (Independent)

There’s nothing like doing badly in a league table to make bosses want to make things better, writes Christina Patterson.

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How worried are Labour MPs about losing their seats?

Despite their party's abysmal poll ratings, MPs find cause for optimism on the campaign trail. 

Labour enters the general election with subterranean expectations. A "good result", MPs say, would be to retain 180-200 of their 229 MPs. Some fear a worse result than 1935, when the party won just 154 seats. Rather than falling, the Conservatives' poll lead has risen as the prospect of electing a government concentrates minds (last night's YouGov survey, showing the Tories a mere 16 points ahead, was an exception).

Though Conservative strategists insist they could lose the election, in an attempt to incentivise turnout, their decision to target Labour MPs with majorities as high as 8,000 shows the scale of their ambitions (a Commons majority of circa 150 seats). But as well as despair, there is hope to be found in the opposition's ranks.

Though MPs lament that Jeremy Corbyn is an unavoidable drag on their support, they cite four reasons for optimism. The first is their local reputation, which allows them to differentiate themselves from the national party (some quip that the only leaflets on which Corbyn will feature are Tory ones). The second is that since few voters believe the Labour leader can become Prime Minister, there is less risk attached to voting for the party (a point some MPs make explicit) "The problem with Ed Miliband and the SNP in 2015 was that it was a plausible scenario," a shadow minister told me. "It was quite legitimate for voters to ask us the question we didn't want to answer: 'what would you do in a hung parliament?' If voters have a complaint it's usually about Jeremy but it's not the case that he looks like he can become prime minister."

The third reason is the spectre of an omnipotent Tory government. MPs appeal to voters not to give Theresa May a "free hand" and to ensure there is some semblance of an opposition remains. Finally, MPs believe there is an enduring tribal loyalty to Labour, which will assert itself as polling day approaches. Some liken such voters to sports fans, who support their team through thick and thin, regardless of whether they like the manager. Outgoing MP Michael Dugher (who I interviewed this week) was told by an elderly woman: "Don't worry, love, I will still vote Labour. I vote for you even when you're rubbish."

Ben Bradshaw, the long-serving MP for Exter, who has a majority of 7,183, told me: "We're not anything for granted of course. On the current national polling, the Tories would take Exeter. But having covered five polling districts, although the leadership is undoubtedly a big issue on the doorstep, most people say they'll still vote for me as their local MP and we're not detecting any significant shift away from 2015. Which is slightly puzzling given the chasm in the opinion polls." Bradshaw also promotes himself as "the only non-Tory MP in the south-west outside Bristol": a leaflet shows a blue-splattered map with a lone red dot. The Labour MP warns voters not to be left in a "one-party state". 

As in 2010, Labour may yet retain more seats than its vote share suggests (aided by unchanged boundaries). But the fate of the Liberal Democrats in 2015 - when the party was reduced from 56 MPs to eight - shows that local reputations are worth less than many suppose. Theresa May has succeeded in framing herself as a figure above party interests, who needs a "strong hand" in the Brexit negotiations. At the very moment when a vigorous opposition is needed most, Labour has rarely been weaker. And when the public turn resolutely against a party, even the best men and women are not spared.  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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