Web Only: the best of the blogs

The five must-read posts from today, on Northern Ireland, marginal seats and benefit cheats.

1. How "AV" made Cameron Tory leader

Michael Crick points out that had the Tories used first-past-the-post in 2005, David Cameron would have lost to David Davis.

2. Northern Ireland decommissioning -- progress but not the end

At Left Foot Forward, Ed Jacobs blogs on Northern Ireland's slow march towards peace, and the painful process of laying the violent past to rest.

3. Is it because the marginals ARE different?

Mike Smithson at PoliticalBetting shows us visually why things might be different in the marginal seats.

4. Cash back or not, Tories don't deserve to win Westminster North

Simon Fletcher gauges reaction to the news that Joanne Cash, the Tory candidate in Westminster North, has stood down due to party infighting.

5. Benefit cheats and the profit principle

Daniel Finkelstein writes that Labour's plan to reward those who identify benefit cheats with a share of the savings establishes a useful principle.

 

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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.