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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. A Tory pact with Ukip would bring disaster (Guardian)

The Conservatives must reach out to win in 2015 – but if they are to be a workers' party a deal with Nigel Farage would be toxic, says David Skelton. 

2. Cameron would be mad to rule out coalition (Times)

Politicians cannot ignore the verdict of voters by refusing to work with other parties in the event of a hung parliament, says Daniel Finkelstein. 

3. Currency unknowns weigh on Scotland (Financial Times)

Whatever is said about sterling, there has to be a plan B and that starts with a Scots pound, says John Kay.

4. PIE, the NCCL and Harriet Harman: why she was right not to apologise (Guardian)

The Daily Mail's attempt to destroy the deputy Labour leader's reputation is McCarthyite, says Zoe Williams. 

5. Germany and the UK need one another (Independent)

Germany exemplifies economic virtue and we exemplify economic vice, writes Hamish McRae. 

6. Japan needs much more of the same (Financial Times)

The effort is showing signs of success but requires renewed vigour, writes Adam Posen.

7. I’m immensely looking forward to saying: ‘I don’t agree with Nick Clegg’ (Independent)

This debate will make sure that the European elections are contested on proper, EU-related issues, says Nigel Farage. 

8. Merkel comes to Little England (Financial Times)

Britain’s eurosceptic obsession means it is losing clout, says an FT editorial. 

9. Maidan, Ukraine … Tahrir, Egypt … the square symbolises failure, not hope (Guardian)

The lesson of Egypt for Ukraine is that defiant crowds may destroy an old regime – but they seldom build a new one, writes Simon Jenkins. 

10. How the name game can break a political idea (Times)

The community charge sounded as if we were all in it together but the poll tax was an invitation to the peasants’ revolt, writes Philip Collins. 

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

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