Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Have a happy Christmas – things can only get worse (Guardian)

From local government to health, spending plans show the deepest cuts are yet to come, writes Polly Toynbee. This is bad news for Labour.

2. A case remains for economic liberalism (Financial Times)

The philosophy’s basic tenets hold sound despite the financial crisis, argues Samuel Brittan.

3. The west can’t direct the Arab Spring, but we can support it (Independent)

You can't expect mature politics to be practised in countries like Egypt where political parties have been banned for 50 years, says Adrian Hamilton.

4. British secret agents need protection from lawyers (Daily Telegraph)

We have been too slow at giving our spies vital protection against predatory lawyers, says Fraser Nelson.

5. NHS privatisation fears? Grow up (Guardian)

Competition works, says Ian Birrell. This bizarre, nostalgic prejudice against profits only damages the health service.

6. That speech on Europe ... can we put it off? (Times) (£)

The Prime Minister is in a fix, says Philip Collins. There is nothing sensible he can say about the EU that will also satisfy his backbenchers.

7. America’s fiscal fix could help Britain too (Daily Telegraph)

Flatter taxes are one of the best ideas for raising US revenues – so let’s try them here, says Jeremy Warner.

8. Patten must take the blame for a sorry saga (Daily Mail)

Everyone, according to Lord Patten, was to blame for the BBC’s shortcomings over the Savile and McAlpine scandals but the Trust chairman himself, says a Daily Mail editorial.

9. Britain’s middle class is not just squeezed but deceived (Independent)

The odds have always been weighted against the “little people”, writes Mary Dejevsky. But the disparity in power has grown since the banking crisis.

10. The BBC and bad public sector management (Financial Times)

High pay at public bodies stinks - they have taken the worst practices of the private sector, writes Andrew Hill.

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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.