Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. On gay marriage, Cameron and Osborne have reached the right decision - for the wrong reason (Independent)

History shows that acting for strategic reasons only can backfire, says Steve Richards.

2. There's more to this Scargill chic than mere fashion nostalgia (Guardian)

The high-street retailer's new collection of clothes dedicated to the former miners' leader reminds us of times when workers were taken more seriously, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

3. America’s drone war is out of control (Financial Times)

Unmanned strikes to kill suspected terrorists set a dangerous precedent, says Gideon Rachman.

4. Britain could end these tax scams by hitting the big four (Guardian)

The spiders spinning the web of avoidance are the major accountancy firms who make billions from the public purse, writes Polly Toynbee.

5. Leaders’ debates are good for democracy (Daily Telegraph)

The Prime Minister should not be allowed to wriggle out of the debates, argues a Telegraph editorial.

6. Spineless Labour need to seize on Tory's smash and grab on families (Daily Mirror)

The Chancellor is cheating the very Britons he claims to champion, says Kevin Maguire.

7. This £20m cheque is an historic turning point (Times) (£)

We need to open up the tax affairs of the FTSE 100 and pursue avoiders more rapidly, writes Margaret Hodge.

8. The time has come to decriminalise all drugs (Independent)

It is time to acknowledge that the war that could never be won is now categorically lost, says an Independent leader.

9. Politicians miss the point of business (Financial Times)

Ministers need to remember that business exists to make a profit within the law, writes Janan Ganesh.

10. On drugs, the law lags behind public opinion (Daily Telegraph)

The Home Office won’t admit it, but most Britons would scrap the ban on cannabis, says Philip Johnston.

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Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000") and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.