Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. America’s fiscal policy is not in crisis (Financial Times)

The most urgent challenge is to promote economic recovery, says Martin Wolf, not reduce the deficit. 

2. What the latest conflict in north Africa tells us about the meaning of 'war on terror' (Independent)

To try and draw simplistic lines between good and bad will only help those seeking to unify those with ethnic, regional and international grievances, writes Douglas Alexander.

3. Mali: the fastest blowback yet in this disastrous war on terror (Guardian)

French intervention in Mali will fuel terrorism, but the west's buildup in Africa is also driven by the struggle for resources, writes Seumas Milne.

4. Fear of the grey vote has turned politicians into cowards (Daily Telegraph)

Wealthy pensioners must pay their fair share to finance childcare and social care bills, argues Mary Riddell. 

5. Trident will not protect us (Guardian)

Britain can't justify these military cuts without looking at the billions spent on nuclear weapons, says Liberal Democrat armed forces minister Nick Harvey. 

6. It’s not a fight against ‘us’. It’s Islam v Islam (Times) (£)

The new "war on terror" won’t be won by armies, but by helping moderate Muslim governments defeat extremism, says Paddy Ashdown.

7. An African crusade is lunacy when cuts have left us barely enough soldiers to troop the colour (Daily Mail)

David Cameron should not have sent a single British aircraft anywhere near his French counterpart’s rash African adventure, says Max Hastings.

8. Climate change is back on the agenda, at last (Independent)

Warnings of the economic risks of global warming should help focus minds at Davos, says an Independent editorial. 

9. Wars like Afghanistan should never be a theatre for celebrity (Guardian)

Prince Harry may shine as a soldier, but he's just a pawn in a political game – adding celebrity dust to a senseless conflict, says Simon Jenkins. 

10. Whitehall can learn from London 2012 (Financial Times)

The games hold plenty of pointers to effective and successful delivery, writes Peter Riddell.

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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