Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Benefits: taking money from the poor (Guardian)

A historic wedge is being driven between rich and poor, says a Guardian editorial.

2. Labour believes George Osborne will be snared by his own welfare benefits trap (Daily Telegraph)

The Chancellor’s caricature of welfare claimants as slobs on sofas bears no comparison with reality, writes Mary Riddell.

3. Cameron holds the aces. He should sit tight (Times) (£)

In the struggle between Europhiles, Eurosceptics and Europhobes, the middle ground is stronger than people think, says Daniel Finkelstein.

4. Don't mock Nick Clegg – he may stay in power for a generation (Guardian)

Since 2010 the deputy PM has been dismissed as politically crippled, writes Simon Jenkins. Yet his cunning could leave him kingmaker again.

5. Signs of trouble to come for China's new leader (Independent)

Protests over press freedom will test Xi Jinping's reformist image, says an Independent editorial.

6. There is a problem with welfare, but it's not 'shirkers' (Guardian)

This economic model isn't delivering jobs or decent wages, says Seumas Milne. The real scroungers are greedy landlords and employers.

7. A trade deal for Europe and US (Financial Times)

Timing for transatlantic talks is as good as it will ever get, says an FT leader.

8. Does a rise in borrowing mean a return to normality? (Independent)

There are several potential benefits to higher interest rates, says Hamish McRae.

9. Withdrawing child benefit is like sticking two fingers up to stay-at-home mothers (Daily Telegraph)

The coalition is signalling it believes there is nothing to gain from women bringing up their own children, writes Judith Woods.

10. American industry is on the move (Financial Times)

Manufacturers using ‘big data’ are setting the scene for a revival, says Sebastian Mallaby.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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