Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. David Cameron should take tips from John Major about Europe (Observer)

Andrew Rawnsley finds important diplomatic lessons in the last Tory Prime Minister's record of Brussels negotiations.

2. A civil servant too effective for his own good (Independent on Sunday)

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood is a formidable operator, says John Rentoul. No wonder he has so many enemies ...

3. Jeremy's still king of Whitehall, but is his crown slipping? (Mail on Sunday)

... while James Forsyth detects chinks in the Cabinet Secretary's famously formidable armour.

4. No more Mr Tough Guy - enter Obama the peacemaker (Sunday Times)

Andrew Sullivan sees signs of a new radicalism in White House foreign policy.

5. Uncertainty of independence can't be wished away (Scotland on Sunday)

Scotland Secretary Michael Moore MP rules out negotiations on a contingency plan for independence before a referendum. 

6. Cameron gives the game away (Independent on Sunday)

Leading article slams the Prime Minister for abandoning the national interest with a reckless European policy.

7. Face it, we only matter to Obama as part of the EU (Sunday Telegraph)

Peter Oborne finds the founding myth of the Atlanticist Tory party in tatters.

8. The beautiful game embodies everything that's bad about Britain (Observer

Will Hutton sees the ugly side of UK capitalism neatly expressed in the Premier League.

9. Now it's loss of faith in justice that needs fixing (Sunday Telegraph)

The Savile affair exposes grim inadequacy at the heart of the system, writes Matthew D'Ancona.

10. Chilcot's continuing silence on Iraq is an affront to us all (Observer)

Catherine Bennett wonders how the truth about the decision to go to war is still so hard to come by 10 years on.

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The Liberal Democrats are back - and the Tories should be worried

A Liberal revival could do Theresa May real damage in the south.

There's life in the Liberal Democrats yet. The Conservative majority in Witney has been slashed, with lawyer and nominative determinism case study Robert Courts elected, but with a much reduced majority.

It's down in both absolute terms, from 25,155 to 5,702, but it's never wise to worry too much about raw numbers in by-elections. The percentages tell us a lot more, and there's considerable cause for alarm in the Tory camp as far as they are concerned: the Conservative vote down from 60 per cent to 45 per cent.

(On a side note, I wouldn’t read much of anything into the fact that Labour slipped to third. It has never been a happy hunting ground for them and their vote was squeezed less by the Liberal Democrats than you’d perhaps expect.)

And what about those Liberal Democrats, eh? They've surged from fourth place to second, a 23.5 per cent increase in their vote, a 19.3 swing from Conservative to Liberal, the biggest towards that party in two decades.

One thing is clear: the "Liberal Democrat fightback" is not just a hashtag. The party has been doing particularly well in affluent Conservative areas that voted to stay in the European Union. (It's worth noting that one seat that very much fits that profile is Theresa May's own stomping ground of Maidenhead.)

It means that if, as looks likely, Zac Goldsmith triggers a by-election over Heathrow, the Liberal Democrats will consider themselves favourites if they can find a top-tier candidate with decent local connections. They also start with their by-election machine having done very well indeed out of what you might call its “open beta” in Witney. The county council elections next year, too, should be low hanging fruit for 

As Sam Coates reports in the Times this morning, there are growing calls from MPs and ministers that May should go to the country while the going's good, calls that will only be intensified by the going-over that the PM got in Brussels last night. And now, for marginal Conservatives in the south-west especially, it's just just the pressure points of the Brexit talks that should worry them - it's that with every day between now and the next election, the Liberal Democrats may have another day to get their feet back under the table.

This originally appeared in Morning Call, my daily guide to what's going on in politics and the papers. It's free, and you can subscribe here. 

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