Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. George Osborne should stick to his job and leave politicking to others (Daily Telegraph)

The Chancellor has enough to do trying to save the economy from impending disaster, says Peter Oborne.

2. The lesson from Eastleigh is simple: the Conservative leadership has lost control of the party (Independent)

A new assertiveness at local level is changing the dynamics of Westminster, writes Steve Richards.

3. Now we know why it was right to invade Iraq (Times)

Ten years after the war began, the country is more secure and democratic, argues David Aaronovitch. The alternative was Syria on steroids.

4. Should one man take the blame for Mid Staffs? (Daily Telegraph)

Calls for the resignation of Sir David Nicholson, the NHS boss, raise profound questions about how we are governed, writes Sue Cameron.

5. Creationist free schools are an abuse - ancient ignorance has no place in education (Independent)

Young minds are primed by nature to believe most of what adults tell them to believe, writes A. C. Grayling. They should be treated with respect, not twisted into shapes that conform with dogma.

6. Europe takes its bite from the City (Financial Times)

Business may switch to New York or Hong Kong to evade EU rules, writes John Gapper.

7. I wish more of us shared the PM's pride in Empire (Daily Mail)

We have turned from being an optimistic, dynamic, outward-looking country to a narrow, introspective and unconfident one, says Stephen Glover.

8. Heroin chic's gone, but the curse of the catwalk remains (Guardian)

Size zero may have made way for 'space farmers' at London Fashion Week, yet the exploitation of vulnerable girls continues, writes Zoe Williams.

9. UK energy policy restricts growth (Financial Times)

Britain needs to get capital flowing into power, says Richard Lambert.

10. Europe: the Right Italy (Guardian)

At one end of the continent Italy is playing with fire, at the other, Britain is doing the same, says a Guardian editorial. 

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

0800 7318496