Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. David Cameron may live to regret his backing for George Osborne (Guardian)

By declaring his support until 2015, the PM has narrowed his options and risks energising his enemies within the party, writes Gaby Hinsliff. 

2. Obama must face the rise of the robots (Financial Times)

Technology will leave a large chunk of the US labour force in the lurch, says Edward Luce.

3. Cameron’s safe, but he urgently needs a plan (Times) (£)

Being a good front man is fine, but it’s not enough if the behind-the-scenes thinking simply isn’t going on, says Tim Montgomerie.

4. As the Tories revolt, Ed is given an easy ride (Daily Telegraph)

Labour’s poll lead belies a lack of convincing policies on the economy, Europe and much else, says Iain Martin.

5. Mid Staffs was a betrayal of the NHS (Guardian)

Transparency and accountability are the key to avoiding another care crisis, says Mike Farrar.

6. The bedroom tax is just the latest assault on our poorest citizens (Independent)

The government's approach requires it to demonise its victims as state dependent leeches, says Owen Jones.

7. Cameron’s critics should extol his European vision (Financial Times)

London needs to develop partners, issue by issue, writes Robert Zoellick.

8. Blair may be the one to save Dave (Sun)

The man David Cameron and George Osborne hail as "the master" has signalled that Labour is an empty vessel, writes Trevor Kavanagh. 

9. From the Papal monasteries to Timbuktu, absolutism lives on (Independent)

For the Salafists, a Muslim shrine is a rival to God as surely as Henry VIII saw the monasteries as a Papal rival, writes Robert Fisk. 

10. Mr Cameron needs a more civil partnership (Daily Telegraph)

The row over same-sex marriage makes the Conservatives look like an ill-disciplined rabble rather than a serious party of government, says a Telegraph 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.

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