Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Labour's line in the sand on benefits (Guardian)

Ed Miliband knows that this is not the politics or economics of one nation, writes Ruth Lister.

2. The cowardice at the heart of our relationship with Israel (Daily Telegraph)

The Tories’ shameful reluctance to criticise Tel Aviv is putting any hope of peace at risk, says Peter Oborne.

3. Osborne should heed Carney’s message (Financial Times)

The new BoE governor will bring change, but not all of it welcome, says Chris Giles.

4. Toleration is the thread binding our tapestry (Times) (£)

Gay marriage, women bishops, immigration – the country is changing, says David Aaronovitch. But that won’t harm our proudest tradition.

5. The church has blown it. England's ticked that box (Guardian)

If it still nurses the dream of being the keeper of the nation's conscience, it's going to have to become more like the nation, writes Zoe Williams.

6. Philippines pays price for climate inaction (Financial Times)

In human casualty terms, typhoon Bopha is almost five times worse than hurricane Sandy, writes David Pilling.

7. Aides' threats show why MPs must not be allowed to muzzle the press (Sun)

The mouthpieces representing Mrs Miller and David Cameron have blown the myth that politicians are innocent victims of a feral press, says Trevor Kavanagh.

8. Finucane lays bare the amoral face of Britain (Independent)

Here were army, police and MI5 officers coolly deciding who should live and die, says an Independent leader.

9. There's more to diversity than statistics. We need change at the top (Guardian)

The census captures Britain's diversity, writes Suzanne Moore. Now how about changing a few key institutions to reflect the country's makeup?

10. Sir Jeremy’s Civil Service just isn’t working (Daily Telegraph)

The messy decision to split the top job has caused chaos among Whitehall’s mandarins, writes Sue Cameron.

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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