Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. US has been let down by its leadership (Financial Times)

A deal that extends unsustainable tax cuts for 98 per cent of Americans is no victory, says Nouriel Roubini.

2. Iain Duncan Smith's polemic is politics at its most cynical (Guardian)

How does the secretary of state's conceit, that in-work benefit claimants are fraudsters, serve the public interest, asks Zoe Williams.

3. Cosy up to China – are you sure about that? (Times) (£)

It’s easy to envy the boom, but as Beijing’s influence spreads around the globe we must confront the human cost, says David Aaronovitch.

4. We can end the elderly care lottery (Guardian)

Means-testing winter fuel payments could prevent old people losing their assets and their dignity, argues Paul Burstow.

5. Let taxpayers share rail fare pain (Independent)

More effort must be made to spread the investment costs more widely, says an Independent editorial.

6. Britain would vote to stay in the EU (Financial Times)

The UK electorate would almost certainly opt for the status quo, writes Gideon Rachman.

7. Fighting back against the left-wing guerrillas (Daily Telegraph)

Foes of public sector reform are waging war at a local level – they must be roundly beaten, says Sean Worth.

8. America could still go over the cliff — and take the rest of us with it (Daily Mail)

The American people, and, indeed, the rest of the world, urgently need to revise their view of how economically strong this ailing superpower really is, says Simon Heffer.

9. Christopher Martin-Jenkins: we're all the poorer for his passing (Daily Telegraph)

Our institutions need many more 'outsiders’ with the enthusiasm and knowledge of Christopher Martin-Jenkins, says Peter Oborne.

10. Cosmetic surgery is bad. That women feel the need for it is worse (Independent)

Now even the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons is demanding change, writes Mary Ann Sieghart.

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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