US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. The rich get even richer (New York Times)

The only way to redress the income imbalance is by implementing policies that are oriented toward reversing the forces that caused it, says Steven Rattner.

2. Jeb Bush and Republican amnesia (Chicago Tribube)

When Bobby and Teddy Kennedy ran for president, they did everything they could to evoke memories of brother Jack. If Jeb were to run, he'd have to treat George W. like the crazy uncle at Thanksgiving dinner, writes Steve Chapman.

3. "Romneycare": GOP albatross or asset? (Politico)

Since he orchestrated and then signed the Massachusetts health care law, Romney is uniquely qualified to lead the GOP attacks against the federal health care reform bill, write Paul Goldman and Mark Rozell.

4. North Korea's dehumanizing treatment of its citizens is hiding in plain sight (Washington Post)

South Koreans, living in freedom, also fear a North Korean collapse  -- not only for the potential financial cost but also because they sense how different their erstwhile countrymen have become, writes Fred Hiatt.

5. Health care on the line in Supreme Court case (San Francisco Chronicle)

This editorial says the questions are: Does Washington have the right to require citizens to have health insurance or pay a penalty, as Democrats assert? Or is this mandate an overreach, at odds with constitutional limits on governmental power, as Republicans claim?

6. The right's Etch a Sketch imperative (Washington Post)

Conservatives will need an exceptionally powerful Etch a Sketch to wipe the nation's memory clean of the education it received during the 2012 campaign's most enlightening week so far, writes E.J. Dionne Jr.

7. Lobbyists, guns and money (New York Times)

Florida's now-infamous Stand Your Ground law, which lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest, let alone prosecution, sounds crazy -- and it is, writes Paul Krugman.

8. Afghan killing spree points to deeper problems (Chicago Tribune)

Congress needs to prod the Obama administration to put a limit on how much is demanded of the limited number of military men and women whose lives are being repeatedly disrupted, while the rest of us go about our normal business, writes Leonard Pitts Jr.

9. Is the Obama administration's energy policy credible? Yes (Denver Post)

The facts are clear. President Obama is invested in our long-term energy independence that will free us from the volatile global oil market and save consumers money at the pump, says Frederico Pena.

10. Evangelicals seek positive change (USA Today)

More evangelicals are breaking formation and tackling social problems such as poverty and human trafficking that weren't on the evangelical political agenda a decade or two ago, writes Tom Krattenmaker.

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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.