Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. NHS enemies will declare the service broken. But it is not (Guardian)

Mid Staffs will be used to justify further reforms – and of the very kind that contributed to that horror in the first place, says Polly Toynbee.

2. Gove may have lost a skirmish, but he’s winning the war (Daily Telegraph)

The GCSE setback for Gove is proof that he is daring to try something new, says Fraser Nelson.

3. Leave things to the professionals, Mr Gove (Independent)

The Education Secretary almost managed to make his climbdown on the EBC look like part of a bigger masterplan, writes Melissa Benn. Almost, but not quite.

4. The NHS is run for the staff, not the patients (Times) (£)

It’s not heresy to demand that hospitals treat people like customers, says Philip Collins. More listening would have meant fewer deaths.

5. A case to reset basis of monetary policy (Financial Times)

The current regime is meant to stabilise inflation and help stabilise the economy, writes Martin Wolf. It has failed.

6. Tunisia is no longer a revolutionary poster-child (Guardian)

Tunisia's revolution was held up as a model, writes Rachel Shabi. But rising political violence is a real threat to progress.

7. Held back by the Lib Dems... yet again (Daily Mail)

By wrecking Michael Gove's GCSE plan, the Lib Dems have – once again – blocked a reform this country desperately needs if it is not to become an economic also-ran, says a Daily Mail editorial.

8. Intervention: the US won’t, Europe can’t (Financial Times)

Europeans have caught the bug just as the US has shaken it off – but they lack the means, writes Philip Stephens.

9. Bank of England: Mark Carney's circus (Guardian)

Carney's testimony to Treasury select committee made clear that a classic British evolution is the most that is likely to be on the cards, says a Guardian editorial.

The re-re-naming of Stalingrad and Spielberg's latest film Lincoln are both examples of how we revise our national history to suit the needs of the current times, writes Mary Dejevsky.

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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