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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Who really wants to roll back the state? Not the right (Guardian)

While this government props up big business and delves into our private lives, there is a tradition of individualism on the left waiting to be reclaimed, says Owen Jones. 

2. Hedge fund titans are testing US democracy (Financial Times)

If branches of government bow to big business, public policy will be decided by the highest bidder, warns Edward Luce. 

3. John Smith would have led us to a decent world (Guardian)

The Labour leader, who died 20 years ago today, was a political giant who ought to inspire a better kind of politics, says John McTernan. 

4. Unemployment will scar us for years (Independent)

The figures make it look as if unemployment is going down, but they hide a multitude of sins and as usual it is the poorest that suffer the most, writes David Blanchflower. 

5. Local elections matter more than their European equivalents (Daily Mirror)

They may be at the bottom of the democratic pile, writes Kevin Maguire. But we need good councillors much more than we need MEPs.

6. Could John Smith have envisaged where his "parliament" would lead? (Daily Telegraph)

The institution he so desired has nourished the very political ideology he despised, writes Alan Cochrane. 

7. The NHS is being suffocated by cynical politicking (Independent)

But let’s never forget that it represents the best of British idealism and energy, says Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. 

8. In our own modest way, we’re living in a Boko Haram world (Daily Telegraph)

There is no consistency or fairness in the BBC’s disgraceful treatment of its Radio Devon DJ, says Boris Johnson. 

9. There is a way to cut knife crime – the Tories just aren't delivering it (Guardian)

Grayling and co, eager to win headlines and dish the Lib Dems, aren't so bothered about a policy that actually works, writes Chris Huhne. 

10. Humans are not all the same under the skin (Times)

There are genetic variations between races, but they don’t matter, writes Matt Ridley. It is co-operation that brings progress to our species. 

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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