Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Osborne knows President Obama won by blaming a predecessor (Independent)

How to deal with the recent past is a big unresolved issue for Labour, writes Steve Richards.

2. The Petraeus affair is short on substance (Financial Times)

The scandal did not change how the general did his job or was regarded by colleagues, writes John Gapper.

3. Bercow and his bullies shame our Parliament (Daily Telegraph)

The Speaker is leading an ambush by MPs of the body set up to control their expenses, says Peter Oborne.

4. Forces for Change (Times) (£)

Today’s elections for police and crime commissioners will help to drive reform in a service that has resisted change, argues a Times editorial.

5. This Sri Lanka massacre shows UN has not learned from its failures in Rwanda (Independent)

Operatives allowed themselves to be bullied by a murderous government, says Isabel Hilton.

6. Policy ploys risk UK economic credibility (Financial Times)

The Chancellor should remember it was exactly the policy of hiding known liabilities that got Greece into its current mess, says Chris Giles.

7. Let’s cut crime, not cops: why you need to vote in today's police commissioner elections (Daily Mirror)

New commissioners can resist Conservative cuts and privatisation, writes John Prescott.

8. Stop going on about gay weddings, Mr Osborne, and honour your vows on tax help for married couples (Daily Mail)

It’s the economy, not gay marriage, that will determine the Tories’ electoral fate, says Stephen Glover.

9. Austerity is here to stay, and we'd better get used to it (Guardian)

We think we know all about the rise of Asia and the decline of the west, writes Martin Kettle. But we've barely begun to grasp what it really means.

10. Childcare: I never thought I’d say it, but Nick Clegg is right (Daily Telegraph)

There can be no further progress in equality between the sexes until men and women genuinely regard raising a child as a shared task, writes Allison Pearson.

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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.