Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Michael Heseltine's on the right road – so who's going to take it? (Guardian)

The Treasury must hate the maverick former minister's report, but it should realise his ideas have deep Tory roots, says Martin Kettle.

2. The coalition can’t keep facing two ways at once on public spending (Daily Telegraph)

Agreement on reducing debt between the Conservatives and Lib Dems is vital if the government is to make it through to 2015, says Peter Oborne.

3. America Decides (Times) (£)

President Obama has lost the campaign and his record has many holes, says a Times editorial. But he has done enough to earn a second term.

4. The Commons has spoken for the nation on the EU (Daily Telegraph)

The time has come for Britain to take a stand against the profligacy of the European Commission - real-terms spending must be cut, says a Telegraph leader.

5. New York’s ascent meets the rising ocean (Financial Times)

The city is not the only global economic hub at the mercy of climate change and rising tides, writes John Gapper.

6. Britain must atone for its sins in Palestine (Daily Telegraph)

Ever since the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Britain has denied our people their rights, says Nabeel Shaath.

7. Who profits from being in care? It's not the children (Guardian)

Dumped in areas cheap enough for contractors to make a decent return, it's little wonder 'cared-for' children fail to thrive, writes Zoe Williams.

8. The tragedy of Britain is the lack of a governing class brave enough to make big decisions (Daily Mail)

Democracy shouldn’t mean buckling into noisy minorities selfishly defending their corner, writes Stephen Glover.

9. How to improve life for the 'squeezed middle' (Independent)

The onus is on the politicians to act – or explain why they will not, says an Independent leader.

10. Banking may lose its allure for the best and brightest (Financial Times)

The really stark relative shrinkage of finance might lie ahead, writes Gillian Tett.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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