Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. End the damaging obsession with deficit (Financial Times)

America must not lose sight of infrastructure, jobs and growth, says Lawrence Summers.

2. Cameron's message is Tory but his enemies have drowned it out (Daily Telegraph)

The PM is allowing his adversaries to define him, says Benedict Brogan. Will the real party leader please stand up?

3. Cameron is lucky to have a Foreign Secretary with experience but no political ambition (Independent)

Unusually, Hague can be candid with Cameron without fearing for his political future, writes Steve Richards. He does not seek a future.

4. Israel’s moderate voices won't be heard at this election (Daily Telegraph)

The loudest applause is reserved for the new right and talk of peace with the Palestinians is increasingly drowned out, writes Peter Oborne.

5. Algeria hostage crisis aftermath: only folly lasts for decades (Guardian)

With such a history of failure in Muslim countries one would have thought David Cameron would choose his words with more care, says a Guardian editorial.

6. Custodian of an interventionist legacy (Financial Times)

Cameron filters Blair’s basic arguments through a very Tory temperament, writes Janan Ganesh. 

7. Algeria head good – Europe head bad (Times) (£)

The EU is an old and damaging distraction for Cameron, says Rachel Sylvester. He looks stronger dealing with modern issues.

8. I agree with Churchill: let's get stuck into the real shirkers (Guardian)

They parasitise us from above, writes George Monbiot. But landowners and the Tory party's idle rich are spared the fairest and simplest of taxes.

9. An action-packed thriller is about to unfold in Davos, Switzerland (Guardian)

In secret meetings in tiny rooms, the rich plot to get even richer, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

10. A crisis of leadership in the western world (Daily Mail)

The west is now run by a new class of career politician, with no expertise in anything beyond spinning a line at election, says a Daily Mail leader.

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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