Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The decline of interest in politics is worse news for Labour (Guardian)

Behind the fun fisticuffs between Labour and the unions is a grim trend that threatens all politics, writes Geoffrey Wheatcroft.

2. Australia will reveal what politicians we want (Times)

Voters Down Under will show our MPs whether people want directionless crowd-pleasers or leaders with conviction, writes Tim Montgomerie.

3. The west's influence in Egypt is as limited as its will for democracy there (Guardian)

If the country is to avoid a return to entrenched dictatorship, secular progressives and Islamists must find common cause, writes Jonathan Steele. 

4. Last US frontier shows need for government (Financial Times)

Thanks to local and state spending, funding of public goods is in better shape than many realise, writes Martin Dickson.

5. This government attack on unions will gag charities and campaign groups, too (Guardian)

Even local campaigns against fracking or a new road may be criminalised under draconian proposals to limit political spending, says Frances O'Grady.

6. This might not be a recovery, but a good old-fashioned boom (Daily Telegraph)

It’s no time for caution – we’re learning to have fun again, so let’s enjoy it while we can, says George Trefgarne.

7. It’s time for a new Labour guru – Coco Chanel (Daily Telegraph)

The only route to power for Ed Miliband is to adopt a very simple maxim: less is more, says Dan Hodges.

8. If the PM doesn't hit the brakes, his legacy will be one of the biggest white elephants in history (Daily Mail)

More and more evidence is stacking up to suggest that HS2, if it goes ahead, will be one of the greatest follies of any British government, writes Stephen Glover. 

9. When did university become a factory? (Independent)

What has happened to the places of free thought and experimentation, where minds expanded, asks Yasmin Alibhai Brown.

10. Push too hard and we lose our faith in charity (Times)

People are becoming alienated by overpaid chiefs, overzealous interference and overemphasis on political lobbying, writes Libby Purves.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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