Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system (Independent)

Where selection remains, it continues to be largely the preserve of the privileged, writes Owen Jones.

2. IDS isn’t ending social security. He’s saving it (Times)

Critics of welfare reform are ignoring the evidence that today’s system is not just a mess but is immoral, says Tim Montgomerie. 

3. Syria: how many more times can the Foreign Office get it so wrong? (Daily Telegraph)

A total misreading of the situation in Syria is just the latest example of Whitehall blundering, says Peter Oborne. 

4. Consumption is not just for Christmas (Financial Times)

It is deeply patronising to fret that the little people are buying too much for their own good, writes Chris Giles. 

5. We can't rely on Angela Merkel to sort out Europe's problems (Guardian)

David Cameron hopes the German chancellor will help him keep Britain in the EU, but she's focused on her own country, writes Martin Kettle. 

6. If you’re Biggs, you believe that you’re big (Times)

From train robbers to slave owners, people tend to convince themselves that they’re acting morally, writes David Aaronovitch. 

7. Six events that shook Asia (Financial Times)

As one nation strives to revive its economy, others struggle with poverty and calamity, writes David Pilling. 

8. Mission accomplished? Afghanistan is a calamity and our leaders must be held to account (Guardian)

British troops haven't accomplished a single one of their missions in Afghanistan, says Seumas Milne. Like Iraq and Libya, it's a disaster.

9. This government is a hotbed of cold feet (Daily Telegraph)

Every time ministers funk or farm out difficult decisions, they lose more authority, says Sue Cameron.

10. The 'right school'? No, parents staying together is the best way to help children (Guardian)

Children with a stable home life do better at school. Focus less on catchment areas and more on relationship counselling, writes Joanna Moorhead. 

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Is Britain about to leave the European Union?

A series of bad polls have pro-Europeans panicked. Are they right?

Is this what Brexit looks like? A batch of polls all show significant movement towards a Leave vote. ORB, a phone pollster, has Leave up four points to 46 per cent, with Remain’s leave cut to four points. ICM’s online poll has Leave up three points, putting Brexit ahead of Remain by 52 per cent to 48 per cent once don’t-knows are excluded. ICM’s phone poll shows Leave up six points, a Brexit lead of three points.

That two phone polls are showing advances for Leave are particularly significant, as telephone polling has tended to show lower figures for Brexit. There is a lively debate over which method, phone or online, is likely to be more effective at predicting the referendum, although no-one knows for certain at the present time.

In any case, whether on the telephone or the Internet, the latest polls have pro-Europeans worried, and Brexiteers jubilant. Who’s right?

There are reasons to start trusting the polls, at least as far as voter ID is concerned

So far, the performances of the political parties in local elections and by-elections has been about par with what we’d expect from the polls. So the chances are good that the measures taken post-2015 election are working.

Bank holidays are always difficult

I would be deeply cautious of reading too much into three polls, all of which have been conducted over the bank holiday weekend, a time when people go out, play with their kids, get wasted or go away for a long weekend. The last set of bank holiday polls gave Ed Miliband’s Labour party  large leads, well outside the average, which tended to show the two parties neck-and-neck.

Although this time they might be more revealing than we expect

One reason why the polls got it wrong in 2015 is they talked to the wrong type of people. The demographic samples were right but they were not properly representative. (Look at it like this – if my poll includes 18 actors who are now earning millions in cinema, I may have a representative figure in terms of the total number of Britain’s millionaires – but their politics are likely to be far to the left of the average British one percenter, unless the actor in question is Tom Conti.)

Across telephone and online, the pollsters talked to people who were too politically-motivated, skewing the result: Ed Miliband’s Labour party did very well among young people for whom Thursday night was a time to watch Question Time and This Week, but less well among young people for whom Thursday is the new Friday.  The polls had too many party members and not enough party animals.

But the question no-one can answer is this: it may be that differential turnout in the European referendum means that a sample of hyper-politicos is actually a better sample than an ordinary poll. Just as the polls erred in 2015 by sampling too many political people, they may be calling the referendum wrong in having too many apolitical people.

These three polls aren’t the scariest for Remain released today

IpsosMori released a poll today, taken 15 days ago and so free from any bank holiday effect, without a referendum voting intention question, but one taking the temperature on which issues the British public believe are the most important of the day.

Far from growing more invested in the question of Britain’s European Union membership as the campaign enters its terminal phase, concern about the European Union has flatlined at 28 per cent – within the margin of error of last month’s IpsosMori survey, which put Britain at 30 per cent. The proportion who believe that it is the biggest single issue facing Britain today also remains static at 16 per cent. Evidence of the high turnout necessary to avert Brexit seems thin on the ground.

Pro-Europeans should be further worried by the identity of the groups that are concerned about the European Union. Conservative voters, the over-65s and people from social grades A (higher managerial, administrative and professional workers) and B (intermediate managerial, administrative and professional workers), are more concerned about the European Union than the national average. The only one of those three groups that is more likely to favour Remain over Leave are ABers, while Conservative voters and the over-65s are likely to vote for Brexit over the status quo.

Among the demographics who are least concerned about the European Union, the only pro-Brexit group that is significantly less concerned about EU membership than the national average are people from social grades D (semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers) to E (state pensioners, casual workers and jobseekers). The other groups that are least concerned with the European Union are people who live in urban areas and people aged from 18 to 24, the two most pro-European demographics.

The prospects of a Brexit vote are rather better than the betting odds would suggest. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.