Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Who’ll be left standing when the Tories’ secret weapon goes bang? (Daily Telegraph)

Labour needs to up its game on immigration and welfare to see off Lynton Crosby’s threat, says Mary Riddell.

2. Real Conservatives cut spending before taxes (Times)

Bold Budget measures being urged on the Chancellor will lose money in the short term, writes Daniel Finkelstein. Ask Margaret Thatcher.

3. Why the euro crisis is not yet over (Financial Times)

If all members of the eurozone would rejoin happily today, they would be extreme masochists, says Martin Wolf.

4. How George Osborne is now being muzzled by his own watchdog (Daily Mail)

The OBR provides the lesson that top economists are no wiser in making predictions than the man next to you in the saloon bar, says Andrew Alexander. 

5. Forget fairness. This mansion tax is ideological cowardice (Guardian)

A fair extension of the council tax would be easy, lucrative, progressive – and anathema to people like Balls and Cable, says Simon Jenkins.

6. Europe needs Cameron’s tough love (Financial Times)

Determination to reform the bloc is in the interests of the whole continent, writes Andrew Mitchell.

7. The price we will pay for dithering on energy (Daily Telegraph)

For a decade and more, Britain has failed to treat energy provision as a priority - and we are further from fixing the problem than ever, says a Telegraph editorial. 

8. Hilary Mantel: bring up the royal bodies (Guardian)

The lecture was not an attack on the Duchess of Cambridge but a thoughtful and sympathetic reflection on royal woman down the ages, says a Guardian editorial.

As the world is getting more prosperous, the western share of wealth is declining, writes Ian Birell. It's a new world order and we must get used to it.

10. Think there's no alternative? Latin America has a few (Guardian)

Not only have leaders from Ecuador to Venezuela delivered huge social gains – they keep winning elections too, writes Seumas Milne.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

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