Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The Unite row is a crisis that Ed Miliband could turn into an opportunity (Observer)

The Labour leader needs to act boldly to emerge from his current woes looking stronger, writes Andrew Rawnsley.

2. Falkirk shows that Labour needs to mend, not end the Union links (Observer)

Ed Miliband pledges openness and reform in carefully worded op ed.

3. I urge Ed Miliband not to play into wrecking Tories' hands (Sunday Mirror)

Len McCluskey insists there was nothing wrong in Falkirk, blames Tories and Blairites.

4. Don't blame women if we ignore what passes for politics (Observer)

A report shows women disengaging from politics. Maybe that's because of the level of debate, ponders Catherine Bennett.

5. Sorry, Ed. It's too late to say you're no Union man (Independent on Sunday)

John Rentoul thinks the definitive moment for Miliband liberate himself has passed.

6. Everything hangs on Ed Miliband's battle with Labour's past (Sunday Telegraph)

Matthew D'Ancona identifies a pivotal moment in the destiny of the Labour party and its leader.

7. Lost in the muddle of the Middle East (Sunday Telegraph)

Jenny McCartney doesn't blame our leaders for hesitating before getting tangled in Egypt and Syria.

8. HS2 was never meant to be real, pull the emergency brake (Sunday Times)

Dominic Lawson joins the anti-High Speed Rail gang.

9. Miliband has got to restore trust or face defeat (Mail on Sunday)

David Blunkett joins the chorus urging the Labour leader to turn his battle with Unite into a leadership-defining episode.

10. Why I've quit the Privy Council after 19 years (Sunday Mirror)

John Prescott is fed up with lack of progress on a charter for press regulation.

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The Liberal Democrats are back - and the Tories should be worried

A Liberal revival could do Theresa May real damage in the south.

There's life in the Liberal Democrats yet. The Conservative majority in Witney has been slashed, with lawyer and nominative determinism case study Robert Courts elected, but with a much reduced majority.

It's down in both absolute terms, from 25,155 to 5,702, but it's never wise to worry too much about raw numbers in by-elections. The percentages tell us a lot more, and there's considerable cause for alarm in the Tory camp as far as they are concerned: the Conservative vote down from 60 per cent to 45 per cent.

(On a side note, I wouldn’t read much of anything into the fact that Labour slipped to third. It has never been a happy hunting ground for them and their vote was squeezed less by the Liberal Democrats than you’d perhaps expect.)

And what about those Liberal Democrats, eh? They've surged from fourth place to second, a 23.5 per cent increase in their vote, a 19.3 swing from Conservative to Liberal, the biggest towards that party in two decades.

One thing is clear: the "Liberal Democrat fightback" is not just a hashtag. The party has been doing particularly well in affluent Conservative areas that voted to stay in the European Union. (It's worth noting that one seat that very much fits that profile is Theresa May's own stomping ground of Maidenhead.)

It means that if, as looks likely, Zac Goldsmith triggers a by-election over Heathrow, the Liberal Democrats will consider themselves favourites if they can find a top-tier candidate with decent local connections. They also start with their by-election machine having done very well indeed out of what you might call its “open beta” in Witney. The county council elections next year, too, should be low hanging fruit for 

As Sam Coates reports in the Times this morning, there are growing calls from MPs and ministers that May should go to the country while the going's good, calls that will only be intensified by the going-over that the PM got in Brussels last night. And now, for marginal Conservatives in the south-west especially, it's just just the pressure points of the Brexit talks that should worry them - it's that with every day between now and the next election, the Liberal Democrats may have another day to get their feet back under the table.

This originally appeared in Morning Call, my daily guide to what's going on in politics and the papers. It's free, and you can subscribe here. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.