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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The great NHS showdown is coming. Soon. (Times)

Jeremy Hunt has so far avoided a winter crisis but, without tough measures, the system will end up in a critical condition, warns Paul Goodman. 

2. Cameron will pay a heavy price for alienating immigrant voters (Daily Telegraph)

Hostility to minorities has destroyed the electoral hopes of US Republicans, while Labour has a huge lead in constituencies with a high percentage of British Asians, writes Mary Riddell. 

3. ‘Too big to fail’ is too big to ignore (Financial Times)

The problem is not only the subsidy for bank risk-taking, it is also the likelihood of disasters, says Martin Wolf.

4. The rational Putin has to rein in the mad one (Times)

If the unpredictable Kremlin leader goes over the edge, he’ll trigger a war, writes Roger Boyes. We’re right to be fearful.

5. How Janus-faced George Osborne defied stereotype and triumphed (Guardian)

For a chancellor four years into office after presiding over the worst slump since the war, his popularity is remarkable, writes Simon Jenkins. 

6. Scotland is the bedrock of Britain’s defences (Daily Telegraph)

The SNP's proposals for its future armed forces are risible and would undermine the UK’s safety, says Con Coughlin. 

7. I’m taking on the status quo, and the establishment’s fighting back (Independent)

As a party we have been expecting this; Ukip is doing well in the polls, writes Nigel Farage.

8. Housing in Britain: of roofs and riches (Guardian)

If the aim were exacerbating society's class divides, it is hard to think of a surer means of accomplishment than a property boom, says a Guardian editorial. 

9. George Osborne’s secret weapon (Financial Times)

The Chancellor should take care with dynamic modelling, says an FT editorial. 

10. What the Birmingham schools probe can tell us about bog-standard comps (Guardian)

Whatever the results of the education department's investigation, pupils' education has been disrupted by the academy agenda, says Zoe Williams. 

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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.