Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Margaret Thatcher's Britain: we still live in the land Maggie built (Guardian)

The coalition is maintaining Thatcher's project of rolling back the frontiers of the state, dismantling the settlement that held from 1945 until it unravelled in the 1970s, writes Jonathan Freedland.

2. Marvel at Mrs Thatcher – the outsider who beat the system (Daily Telegraph)

Unlike most politicians today, she had courage, integrity and a clear sense who she was, says Peter Oborne. 

3. The Iron Lady towers over modern Britain (Financial Times)

Thatcher’s legacy is not order – though that was a precious achievement – but freedom, says Janan Ganesh.

4. Margaret Thatcher: the lady and the land she leaves behind (Guardian)

Her legacy is public division, private selfishness and a cult of greed that together shackle the human spirit, says a Guardian editorial.

5. How Thatcher restored Britain’s optimism (Times)

Children will study the former Prime Minister in the same way they study Elizabeth I, Cromwell and Churchill, writes George Osborne.

6. Margaret Thatcher broke Britain and replaced it with something crueller and nastier (Daily Mirror)

Many of the problems experienced today on bleak estates – joblessness, drugs, despair and hopelessness – can be traced back to her disastrous premiership, says a Daily Mirror editorial.

7. They underrated her, and always paid the price (Daily Telegraph)

Thatcher was not regarded as much of a threat by Labour when she became Tory leader in 1975, says David Owen. 

8. Thatcherism was a national catastrophe that still poisons us (Independent)

We are in the midst of the third great economic collapse since the Second World War: all three have taken place since Thatcherism launched its great crusade, writes Owen Jones.

9. This is a solemn and awesome moment in the history of our people, and we must mark it accordingly (Daily Mail)

Our nation pays no higher tribute to its great men and women than to accord them a state funeral, writes Simon Heffer. By any standards, Margaret Thatcher must have one.

10. The Lloyds workers are paying for their bosses' catastrophe (Guardian)

Average Lloyds employees face hardship and redundancy, writes Aditya Chakrabortty. Meanwhile, those that led them into this mess are thriving.

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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