Morning Call: pick of the papers

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


1. Why my father loved Britain (Daily Mail)

The Daily Mail sometimes claims it stands for the best of British values of decency, writes Ed Miliband. But something has really gone wrong when it attacks the family of a politician.

2. The Conservatives face a battle of ideas and are not sure how to win it (Independent)

Ed Miliband has laid down an ideological challenge, and voters seem pleased, writes Steve Richards.

3. How things could go right in Middle East (Financial Times)

A region given to crushing optimism might be showing its brighter side, says Gideon Rachman.

4. The incredible shrinking Tory party (Guardian)

The attendance figures for the Conservative party conference tell a tale of how David Cameron lost his core membership and let the bankers in, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

5. Cameron is betting that Britain is still a country of grown-ups (Daily Telegraph)

The Prime Minister hopes that the public will realise that "vote Ukip, get Miliband" is no longer an idle threat, writes Benedict Brogan.

6. Tories must balance the tough with the tender (Times)

Vintage policies on welfare and immigration will not win unless there is action too on jobs and housing, writes Rachel Sylvester.

7. Who will vote for George Osborne's even nastier economic medicine now? (Guardian)

Forever dogged by his tax cut for the rich, the chancellor struggles to be believed when he says the country will recover together, says Polly Toynbee.

8. The Tories will get serious with populism (Financial Times)

The Conservatives will seek credibility as a riposte to UKIP and Labour, writes Janan Ganesh.

9. Merkel may rock the boat and turn Green (Financial Times)

The German leader has what it takes to break with the past, writes Stephan Richter.

10. A pact with angry old Ukip would be disastrous for the Conservative party (Guardian)

Europe is not a major issue for voters, writes Nick Herbert. We must focus on the things that matter most: the economy and living standards.

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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