Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

In the Times, the historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto argues against the Malthusian terror that emerges as the UK population grows:

Population increase causes none of the problems commonly ascribed to it. We face crises of biodiversity and resources -- but because of our madcap consumption, not our numbers.

The Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan writes in the Daily Telegraph on the growing intolerance of dissenting MPs:

My point is that we seem to have lost the notion that a backbencher speaks for himself. I like David Cameron, and want him to be prime minister, not least so that Britain stops racking up debt. But the idea that I therefore agree with him on every issue is, when you think about it, silly.

The Economist's Bagehot column discusses the lack of talent on the Labour and Conservative front benches and suggests that a US-style system of outside appointments could remedy this:

The solution is simple. Prime ministers should reach beyond Westminster for more of their hires. The more technocratic departments could be led by captains of industry or accomplished scientists. Some might even survive handovers of power, like Robert Gates, the defence secretary retained by Barack Obama.

The Independent's Johann Hari criticises the new film version of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, which Klein has publicly distanced herself from.

In the Wall Street Journal, Bjørn Lomborg explores the technological solutions to climate change:

One proposal would have boats spray seawater droplets into clouds above the sea to make them reflect more sunlight back into space -- augmenting the natural process where evaporating ocean sea salt helps to provide tiny particles for clouds to form around.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.