Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Housing crisis is the scandal of our age (Daily Telegraph)

Rents must be brought down and investment shifted from welfare into building the homes that Britain needs so desperately, says Mary Riddell.

2. Out of Europe, Britain faces a weak future (Financial Times)

If the prime minister is to call a referendum, the only real choice is between being fully in or out altogether, says Jonathan Powell.

3. A betrayal of principle on same-sex marriage (Independent)

Cameron talked big; what he delivered is a cobbling together of compromise and cowardice of which he should be ashamed, says an Independent leader.

4. Culture wars are an unwelcome American import (Daily Telegraph)

By supporting gay marriage, David Cameron risks sowing division where none previously existed, argues a Telegraph editorial.

5. This lily-livered marriage bill must make room for all of us (Guardian)

Gay people are still being denied marriage, while straight people are deserting it in droves, writes Gaby Hinsliff. The institution itself is a mess.

6. Who should we back in this Sunni-Shia war? (Times) (£)

Syria is not a struggle between tyranny and freedom but a fight for dominance between two visions of Islam, writes Paddy Ashdown. 

7. Japan should scare the eurozone (Financial Times)

Japan’s two consecutive lost decades are precisely what Europe should not want to emulate, writes Sebastian Mallaby.

8. Northern Ireland is not at a crossroads it's stuck on a roundabout (Guardian)

The recurring violence of a minority in Northern Ireland reflects a wider lack of faith in its politics, says Peter Shirlow.

9. The rioters shouldn’t worry – Ulster is safe (Daily Telegraph)

As the census shows, a united Ireland has become an outdated nationalist fantasy, argues Ruth Dudley Edwards.



10. Sorry Mr Cameron, Television debates are not optional (Independent)

The PM's bid to weedle out of pre-election live debates in 2015 makes a handsome Christmas gift to Ed Miliband, says Matthew Norman.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke (all of which he denies), but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reported in the Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.