Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. A welfare crisis engulfs the nation, but Labour sits idly by (Daily Telegraph)

Caution has served Ed Miliband well so far, but the time has come for more than rhetoric, says Mary Riddell.

2. Why China’s economy might topple (Financial Times)

As Japan has shown, shifting to a lower-growth model is risky, writes Martin Wolf.

3. Tunisia and Egypt need the Arab revolutions to spread (Guardian)

Conflict over religion and identity risks diverting attention from the battle for social justice and national independence, writes Seumas Milne.

4. The Ed Miliband experiment has been tried before. Remember Gordon Brown? (Independent)

The worst outcome of the next election would be for Labour to win it so ill-prepared, says John Rentoul.

5. Welfare state can be cheaper and popular (Financial Times)

To satisfy deficit hawks and social justice doves a radical reshaping is needed, writes Graeme Cooke.

6. European Union: time to get aboard (Guardian)

Britain ought to be playing a more active role than this self-isolation permits, says a Guardian editorial.

7. North Korean missile crisis? Remember Cuba (Times)

It’s easy to dismiss Pyongyang’s threats as empty rhetoric, says Daniel Finkelstein. Postwar history should teach us to take the noise seriously.

8. Tell youngsters the truth: the UK needs you to work not go to university (Daily Telegraph)

The decision to massively increase the number of school-leavers going to university ranks as one of the greatest social and industrial policy blunders of recent decades, argues Allister Heath. 

9. A gurning DG and the question of bias (Daily Mail)

Seen through the BBC prism, every modest attempt to trim public spending is a wanton act of cruelty, says a Daily Mail editorial.

10. The religious side of Easter seemed to pass almost unnoticed (Independent)

Not so long ago almost everything shut down on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, notes 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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