Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Does Labour have the appetite to support the Casserole Club? (Daily Telegraph)

A radical plan to reshape the state and hand power and money to local authorities is proving controversial in the shadow cabinet, writes Mary Riddell. 

2. The long, withdrawing roar of trade unionism (Times)

Once a power in the land the union movement still dominates the public sector, writes Daniel Finkelstein. But for how much longer?

3. If robots divide us, they will conquer (Financial Times)

The rise of intelligent technologies may cost us dear – unless we understand the dangers, says Martin Wolf.

4. Labour and the unions: two cheers for democracy (Guardian)

Mr Miliband's plan goes a long way in the right direction, but some of the details remain muddy, says a Guardian editorial.

5. Get off the Speaker’s back. He deserves a much better press (Times)

His work has done much to restore the status of the Commons, says Tim Montgomerie.

6. Pakistan's future is tied to the Taliban (Guardian)

With the impending withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, the time has come to talk – despite the horrific wave of bombings, says Tariq Ali.

7. Independence can revive Scotland (Financial Times)

A Yes vote offers Scots the chance to emulate their Victorian forebears, writes Michael Fry.

8. There are very good reasons a foetus cannot be a victim of crime (Guardian)

Criminalising women who drink while pregnant would set a profoundly dangerous legal precedent, writes Zoe Williams. Support for the idea is driven by wild overestimates of foetal alcohol syndrome.

9. Russia doesn’t seem to care that it has had to spend stupid money in order to host the Winter Olympics. Maybe it should (Independent)

The Games are stunningly, ludicrously, absurdly expensive, writes Hamish McRae. To take a round figure they look like costing $50bn.

10. Why the NHS is crossing the Rubicon (Daily Telegraph)

The 'Francis effect’ following the scandal of bad treatment at Stafford Hospital is leading to more nurses, less box-ticking, and greater transparency, says Jeremy Hunt.

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Leader: The divisions within Labour

Labour’s divisions have rendered it unfit for government at a moment of profound political change.

Labour is a party torn between its parliamentary and activist wings. Since Jeremy Corbyn, who this week appealed desperately for unity, was re-elected by a landslide last September, Labour has become the first opposition in 35 years to lose a ­by-election to the governing party and has continually trailed the Conservatives by a double-digit margin. Yet polling suggests that, were Mr Corbyn’s leadership challenged again, he would win by a comfortable margin. Meanwhile, many of the party’s most gifted and experienced MPs refuse to serve on the front bench. In 2015 Mr Corbyn made the leadership ballot only with the aid of political opponents such as Margaret Beckett and Frank Field. Of the 36 MPs who nominated him, just 15 went on to vote for him.

Having hugely underestimated the strength of the Labour left once, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will not do so again. In the contest that will follow Mr Corbyn’s eventual departure, the centrists could lock out potential successors such as the shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey. Under Labour’s current rules, candidates require support from at least 15 per cent of the party’s MPs and MEPs.

This conundrum explains the attempt by Mr Corbyn’s supporters to reduce the threshold to 5 per cent. The “McDonnell amendment” (named after the shadow chancellor, who failed to make the ballot in 2007 and 2010) is being championed by the Bennite Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Jon Lansman of Momentum, who is interviewed by Tanya Gold on page 34. “For 20 years the left was denied a voice,” he tweeted to the party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, on 19 March. “We will deny a voice to no one. We face big challenges, and we need our mass membership to win again.”

The passage of the amendment at this year’s Labour conference would aid Mr Lansman’s decades-long quest to bring the party under the full control of activists. MPs have already lost the third of the vote they held under the electoral college system. They face losing what little influence they retain.

No Labour leader has received less support from his MPs than Mr Corbyn. However, the amendment would enable the election of an even more unpopular figure. For this reason, it should be resolutely opposed. One should respect the motivation of the members and activists, yet Labour must remain a party capable of appealing to a majority of people, a party that is capable of winning elections.

Since it was founded, Labour has been an explicitly parliamentary party. As Clause One of its constitution states: “[The party’s] purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.” The absurdity of a leader opposed by as much as 95 per cent of his own MPs is incompatible with this mission. Those who do not enjoy the backing of their parliamentary colleagues will struggle to persuade the voters that they deserve their support.

Labour’s divisions have rendered it unfit for government at a moment of profound political change. Rather than formalising this split, the party needs to overcome it – or prepare for one of the greatest defeats in its history.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution