Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. A short history of austerity: it almost never works (Guardian)

You have to be one of Vince Cable's 'austerity jihadists' to believe you can cut your way out of a slump, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

2. Labour and the Tories both think they'll lose 2015 and they can't both be right (Independent)

The mood in each camp is downbeat and introspective, but “Sorry we blew it last time" isn't the kind of slogan that wins elections, writes Steve Richards. 

3. Punish them, yes. But jail doesn’t fit this crime (Times) (£)

Huhne and Pryce broke the law, writes Rachel Sylvester. But locking them up in our expensive, overcrowded prisons serves no purpose.

4. Prison is the right place for Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce (Daily Telegraph)

If they’d got off lightly for swapping penalty points for speeding, how many others would be encouraged to test the legal system, asks Philip Johnston.

5. Prepare for endgame in North Korea (Financial Times)

The US and China should pool ideas on the nuclear threat, says Gideon Rachman.

6. If Cameron wants his troops to rally, he must act like a general (Daily Telegraph)

MPs would fight to the death for victory, but they need the PM in the trenches with them, says Benedict Brogan.

7. A mansion tax can stop this mountain of wealth crushing us (Guardian)

Labour barely breathed on the super-rich when in power, says Polly Toynbee. In backing a mansion tax, they are at last offering an alternative.

8. Time for the media to find a compromise on Leveson recommendations (Independent)

The sluggish progress that has followed the inquiry risks the worst possible outcome, says an Independent editorial.

9. Immigration exposes political weakness (Financial Times)

Conservatives are caught between the right and left, writes Stanley Greenberg.

10. I'm leaving the Liberal Democrats too (Guardian)

The justice and security bill will have a corrosive impact on individual rights, writes Philippe Sands. The party's support for it is a coalition compromise too far.

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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