Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. In Britain, beer is much more than just a drink (Guardian)

6. Home truths about the housing market (Telegraph)

George Osborne’s help-to-buy scheme in the Budget may excite the hopes of would-be homeowners, but it confirms our alarming dependence on an insufficient stock of homes, writes Alex Morton

7. Middle East needs more than fine words (Financial Times)

John Kerry’s good intentions are worthless if the US president is not ready to take risks, writes Philip Stevens

8. The SWP leadership has turned the party into a sinking ship (Guardian)

The party's leadership has only itself to blame for the mass exodus of members caused by its cover-up of a rape complaint, writes Richard Seymour

9. I’m glad I learnt to read Shakespeare at school rather than a balance sheet (Independent)

Richard Branson has recommended dropping "irrelevant" topics from the curriculum, writes Alice Jones

10. On Syria, the west needs a better choice than do nothing or direct intervention (Guardian)

In the US, debate about arming the Syrian opposition is heating up. But we need to find a different paradigm than military aid, write Carne Ross

 

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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