Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Labour has faced its demons, but the Tories are still ruled by theirs (Guardian)

Ed Miliband spent the past year laying building blocks for his policies, while the Conservatives wallowed in their old nastiness, writes Polly Toynbee.

2. Obama fails to correct Egyptian mistake (Financial Times)

The president did not undermine implicit US support for the military, writes Ian Bremmer.

3. Ignore the (other) advice, Ed. Be your own man (Times)

The Labour leader should argue for his egalitarian vision and policies that close the gap between rich and poor, says Philip Collins.

4. Forget the nostalgia for British Rail – our trains are better than ever (Guardian)

Passengers may be grumbling about the planned fare increases, but on balance rail privatisation has been a huge success, writes Ian Birrell.

5. How the wealthy keep themselves on top (Financial Times)

The more unequal a society, the greater the incentive for the rich to pull up the ladder behind them, writes Tim Harford.

6. The west must finally see Egypt as it is, not as we would like it to be (Independent)

The western world cannot afford an Egypt mired in protracted disorder, but the unpredictability of its neighbourhood excludes the usual treatment, writes Mary Dejevsky. 

7. Promote women, but not the wrong ones (Daily Telegraph)

David Cameron’s target of a third of his ministers being female risks a 'tokenism’ reshuffle, says Isabel Hardman. 

8. A German ally in the war against Brussels (Daily Mail)

How inconvenient it must be for the Prime Minister's opponents that he can now point to the support of the most influential country in mainland Europe, says a Daily Mail editorial. 

9. Is Ed Miliband's Labour Party prepared to do or say anything at all? (Independent)

Maybe the shadow cabinet have converted to a branch of Buddhism, writes Mark Steel. The only time they've tried to appear decisive was when they got into an argument with Unite.

10. François Hollande should have joined les grands départs (Times)

In a country devoted to its August holiday shutdown, the stay-at-home President has attracted only ridicule, writes Charles Bremner.

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How worried are Labour MPs about losing their seats?

Despite their party's abysmal poll ratings, MPs find cause for optimism on the campaign trail. 

Labour enters the general election with subterranean expectations. A "good result", MPs say, would be to retain 180-200 of their 229 MPs. Some fear a worse result than 1935, when the party won just 154 seats. Rather than falling, the Conservatives' poll lead has risen as the prospect of electing a government concentrates minds (last night's YouGov survey, showing the Tories a mere 16 points ahead, was an exception).

Though Conservative strategists insist they could lose the election, in an attempt to incentivise turnout, their decision to target Labour MPs with majorities as high as 8,000 shows the scale of their ambitions (a Commons majority of circa 150 seats). But as well as despair, there is hope to be found in the opposition's ranks.

Though MPs lament that Jeremy Corbyn is an unavoidable drag on their support, they cite four reasons for optimism. The first is their local reputation, which allows them to differentiate themselves from the national party (some quip that the only leaflets on which Corbyn will feature are Tory ones). The second is that since few voters believe the Labour leader can become Prime Minister, there is less risk attached to voting for the party (a point some MPs make explicit) "The problem with Ed Miliband and the SNP in 2015 was that it was a plausible scenario," a shadow minister told me. "It was quite legitimate for voters to ask us the question we didn't want to answer: 'what would you do in a hung parliament?' If voters have a complaint it's usually about Jeremy but it's not the case that he looks like he can become prime minister."

The third reason is the spectre of an omnipotent Tory government. MPs appeal to voters not to give Theresa May a "free hand" and to ensure there is some semblance of an opposition remains. Finally, MPs believe there is an enduring tribal loyalty to Labour, which will assert itself as polling day approaches. Some liken such voters to sports fans, who support their team through thick and thin, regardless of whether they like the manager. Outgoing MP Michael Dugher (who I interviewed this week) was told by an elderly woman: "Don't worry, love, I will still vote Labour. I vote for you even when you're rubbish."

Ben Bradshaw, the long-serving MP for Exter, who has a majority of 7,183, told me: "We're not anything for granted of course. On the current national polling, the Tories would take Exeter. But having covered five polling districts, although the leadership is undoubtedly a big issue on the doorstep, most people say they'll still vote for me as their local MP and we're not detecting any significant shift away from 2015. Which is slightly puzzling given the chasm in the opinion polls." Bradshaw also promotes himself as "the only non-Tory MP in the south-west outside Bristol": a leaflet shows a blue-splattered map with a lone red dot. The Labour MP warns voters not to be left in a "one-party state". 

As in 2010, Labour may yet retain more seats than its vote share suggests (aided by unchanged boundaries). But the fate of the Liberal Democrats in 2015 - when the party was reduced from 56 MPs to eight - shows that local reputations are worth less than many suppose. Theresa May has succeeded in framing herself as a figure above party interests, who needs a "strong hand" in the Brexit negotiations. At the very moment when a vigorous opposition is needed most, Labour has rarely been weaker. And when the public turn resolutely against a party, even the best men and women are not spared.  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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