Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Eastleigh by-election is a warning for the Tories (Daily Telegraph)

The withered state of the Conservative Party’s grassroots bodes ill for the general election in 2015, says Paul Goodman.

2. The Lib Dems must not stand for any more lies over the NHS (Guardian)

The Tories have misled their coalition partners – and us – repeatedly over the true extent of their health service vandalism, says Polly Toynbee.

3. Settler policy imperils Israel’s foundations (Financial Times)

The country is losing legitimacy among allies around the world, writes Philip Stephens. Netanyahu bears responsibility.

4. Follow Marco or stay out of the White House (Times)

The smart young Republican has shifted on immigration, writes David Taylor. If his party wants power, it must follow suit.

5. Barely noticed, civil war is raging in Whitehall (Independent)

Government ministers are riding roughshod over the civil service, and that leads to government by cock-up and a loss of morale in Whitehall, writes Andreas Whittam Smith.

6. Juries? It's time they went the way of the ducking stool (Guardian)

The soap opera that is the Vicky Pryce trial shows the archaic rituals of our courts to be little more than legal parlour games, writes Simon Jenkins.

7. Weaker pound is welcome but no panacea (Financial Times)

The challenge is to connect monetary and fiscal policy to promote demand while enhancing supply, says Martin Wolf.

8. A degree of good sense (Daily Telegraph)

With people working for longer, and jobs for life becoming a thing of the past, it makes sense for older people to return to higher education, says a Telegraph leader.

9. The Robin Hood tax takes a step closer (Guardian)

The aim of the financial transaction tax is to make banks and markets contribute more – and it's coming to 11 EU states soon, writes Algirdas Šemet.

10. A poorly disguised raid on Britain's aid budget (Independent)

If David Cameron wants to up military spending he should have the courage to say so, says an Independent editorial.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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