Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Baker’s vocational lesson for young Mr Gove (Times) (£)

I’ve always been a believer in an old-school generalist education but visiting the JCB Academy has shifted my thinking, says Matthew Parris.

2. Britons still don’t believe that the Tories are on their side (FT) (£)

As things stand, the Conservative party faces defeat in 2015, writes Michael Ashcroft.

3. Walking away from Leveson is not acceptable (Guardian)

The press's alternative royal charter is a brazen attempt by powerful newspaper proprietors to remain unaccountable, says Christopher Jefferies.

4. James Boswell revolutionised the way we see great men – and women (Telegraph)

Ever since the 'Life of Samuel Johnson’, the biography has been a force in British culture, says Charles Moore, authorised biographer of Margaret Thatcher.

5. The IMF's check-up will give George Osborne another headache (Independent)

Miliband may need five symbolic cuts to convince that he means business on the deficit, says Andrew Grice.

6. Want to boost the economy? Ban all meetings (Guardian)

David Cameron has had the cabinet table extended so more spads can fit around it. Wave goodbye to productivity at No 10, says Marina Hyde.

7. ‘Eton is dedicated to public service’, says No 10 adviser Jesse Norman (Times) (£)

Jesse Norman, David Cameron’s new policy adviser, insists it won’t be all Old Etonian mates at No 10, he tells Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson.

8. Could he trigger a snap general election? (Daily Mail)

Mr Clegg threatens that if David Cameron pulls out of the convention to allow the extremist Islamist to be sent to Jordan, the Coalition could collapse, writes Simon Heffer.

9. Scandal of social housing sell-offs putting more on homeless waiting lists (Mirror)

With more than two million people looking for somewhere to live, this cynical vote-buying exercise has to be reined in, says Paul Routledge.

10. Planet Tory has just got a whole lot more like today’s Planet Britain (Telegraph)

David Cameron's U-turns are reminiscent of Mrs Thatcher's banana skins in the Eighties; then, as now, the real opposition was Conservative MPs, says Graeme Archer.

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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