Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. China has thrown down a gauntlet (Financial Times)

Beijing has turned control of the air space around the Senkaku Islands into a test of the US, writes Philip Stephens. 

2. Misery looms for the 'have-it-all' generation (Daily Telegraph)

As the baby boomers approach retirement, many face a retirement crisis, thanks to QE, writes Jeremy Warner.

3. Energy's big six: the more we learn, the worse they look (Guardian)

Cutting the 'green crap' from energy bills is a damaging electoral sweetener – the signs are voters will not be fooled, says Polly Toynbee.

4. The case for the Union is still strong – so why does the government not make it? (Daily Telegraph)

Alex Salmond and the SNP are being given a free hand to blame London for their own mistakes, says Fraser Nelson. 

5. Tories and the cult of home ownership (Financial Times)

Promoting house-buying is a form of stimulus that does not overtly add to the fiscal deficit, writes Samuel Brittan. 

6. There is no link between porn and sex crime (Times)

Rape and violence are about power and the male nature, writes Philip Collins. Moral panic about legal images is pointless.

7. The U-turning Tories are making their lack of conviction obvious (Daily Telegraph)

Not knowing what they believe makes for messy messaging for the Tories, says Isabel Hardman. 

8. Leveson: Britain's press needs to learn humility – I should know (Guardian)

As a former Sun editor, I know newspapers are dictatorships, says David Yelland. Their hysterical reaction to Leveson proves it.

9. If I were young and Scottish, I would vote yes to independence (Independent)

The country is certainly strong enough to stand on its own, writes Mary Dejevsky. 

10. Why the assault on cigarette packets? They already look like props in a horror movie (Guardian)

I hate smoking, writes Simon Jenkins. But I also hate being told by the government how to look after my body. Cameron should leave smokers.

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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.