US press: pick of the papers

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

1. Elephants down under (New York Times)

In New Zealand and Australia, you could almost fit their entire political spectrum -- from conservatives to liberals -- inside the US Democratic Party, writes Thomas Friedman, from Christchurch, New Zealand.

2. Republicans are causing a moral crisis in America (Washington Post)

The real crisis of public morality in the United States doesn't lie in the private decisions Americans make in their lives or their bedrooms; it lies at the heart of an ideology -- and a set of policies -- that the right-wing has used to batter and browbeat their fellow Americans, writes Katrina vanden Heuvel.

3. A small step forward for Earth (LA Times)

To really make a difference, the EPA should crack down on existing coal plants. But during an election year, when short-term economic concerns are trumping long-term ones, we'll take what we can get, says this editorial.

4. Could defeat in court help Obama win? (New York Times)

If the new health care law's individual mandate to purchase insurance is upheld, it will be hailed as a big win for the administration. But the White House might actually reap more political dividends from defeat, says Ross Douthat.

5. The rich are different; they get richer (Washington Post)

A middle class enduring prolonged stagnation isn't likely to fund projects the nation needs to undertake -- such as rebuilding our infrastructure or increasing teacher pay -- or, ultimately, to retain its faith in the efficacy of democracy, writes Harold Meyerson.

6. Europe's firewall follies (Wall Street Journal)

This editorial says: As best we can tell, the world did not end (as widely predicted) when Athens was forced to restructure its debt, despite the benefit of previous bailouts. So why does Europe now need to double down on the same bailout medicine that so expensively failed to save Greece?

7. US foreign policy tries to lock up loose nukes (San Francisco Chronicle)

Neither of two major sources of worry - Iran and next-door North Korea - attended a recent summit. The get-together underlined the ostracized, outsider status of the two nations, which have refused to divulge the extent of their nuclear buildup, writes this editorial.

8. Streamline the federal government (Politico)

It is in the national interest to approve the president's consolidation authority, so that we can bring Washington into the 21st century by making it tech savvy and agile, a true partner for U.S. companies, small and large, that will be the source of jobs for years to come, write Jeff Zients and John Engler.

9. Ripping out Obamacare by the roots (Washington Examiner)

We are only beginning to scratch the surface of Obamacare. Never before has a piece of legislation empowered an unaccountable, unelected official, in this case the secretary of health and human services, to wield such enormous regulatory power, writes Rep. Michele Bachmann.

10. Income inequality does matter (USA Today)

Some think the problem is one of relative deprivation, that folks in the middle are doing OK. It's just a matter of envy. Not so, says Philip Meyer.

Symbols of the Democratic and Republican parties on display in Washington, D.C. in 2008. Credit: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.