Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Lost illusions on Europe (Financial Times)

Britain needs to adopt a hard-headed approach founded on the national interest – and hold a referendum, says an FT editorial.

2. Nothing in British politics is harder than welfare reform. The dogfight over it is a distraction (Independent)

The goal of delivering a fair, affordable welfare seems as distant as ever, writes Steve Richards.

3. How to follow the public money in a privatised NHS (Guardian)

Without basic financial transparency from public service contractors we can say goodbye to democratic accountability, writes Zoe Williams.

4. Losing one Lord a-leaping is unfortunate. Losing three at once should make Mr Cameron very worried indeed (Daily Mail)

The chances of the coalition fracturing completely are now perhaps higher than ever, says Simon Heffer.

5. Welfare cuts may bite the UK government (Financial Times)

When incomes rise and the Treasury refuses to raise social security, everyone will complain, says Chris Giles.

6. Europe’s dogmatic ruling class remains wedded to its folly (Daily Telegraph)

Proclamations of the euro’s salvation owe more to ideology than to the facts, says Peter Oborne.

7. Is the millennium’s biggest ego trip over? (Times) (£)

The left fête him as an anti-capitalist, anti-American saviour, but Hugo Chávez is just a strutting narcissist, says David Aaronovitch.

8. Don't dismiss privatised classes (Independent)

In education as in probation, public services must be about practicality not ideology, says an Independent editorial.

9. Tinker, tailor, soldier... and a central banker (Daily Telegraph)

The Treasury’s cloak-and-dagger interviews are hardly an advert for open government, writes Sue Cameron.

10. US energy: state of (semi-) independence (Guardian)

The relationships that America has with the rest of the world are bound to change both in scale and in intensity, says a Guardian editorial.

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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.