Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The Tory party is in agony, but Labour is also leeching support (Daily Telegraph)

If he is to win back public trust, Labour leader Ed Miliband must tell voters what his spending plans entail, says Mary Riddell.

2. The climate sceptics have already won (Financial Times)

The real and present dangers are too uncomfortable to confront, writes Martin Wolf.

3. First, David Cameron should bring his own tax havens to book (Guardian)

Pressing the G8 to get tough on avoidance is hypocrisy while British dependencies like the Caymans still thrive, writes Simon Jenkins.

4. Why I’m ducking out of the Scottish debate (Times

Instinctively I’m sceptical of separation but politically there’s an advantage in Labour-voting Scotland leaving, writes Daniel Finkelstein.

5. George Osborne may not be dead in the water after all. What will Labour do then? (Guardian)

The IMF may today deliver good(ish) news on the economy, writes Gaby Hinsliff. Even a fake recovery would be bad news for the two Eds.

6. Stocks are booming, so beware the bust (Daily Telegraph)

The return of 'animal spirits’ usually points to better times, but it’s more complicated now, writes Jeremy Warner.

7. The ugly truth is a smug Tory elite has sneered at the party faithful for decades (Daily Mail)

Cameron is surrounded by people who sneer at the morals and values of his party's grassroots supporters, writes Simon Heffer.

8. Ed Miliband is staring at an open goal and I know just the pair of strikers to win it for him (Independent)

Darling and Mandy cut unlikely superheroes, writes Matthew Norman. But it's time for Miliband to bring them back. 

9. Cameron is no longer a winner (Financial Times)

Activists who picked the PM in 2005 to end a losing streak now regret their choice, writes Tim Bale.

10. Job security is a thing of the past - so millions need a better welfare system (Guardian)

Flexible labour markets have created a growing 'precariat', who should have the right to a basic standard of living, says Guy Standing.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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