Whip’s Notebook: The great boundary bust-up

by Jon Ashworth

Tuesday was not a good day for the Tory whips.

There were early signs that not all was well on the Tory benches at Tuesday’s Treasury questions. In Westminster terms, the monthly joust between Ed Balls and George Osborne is usually box office and true to form the Labour benches were packed. Yet strangely the Tory benches were sparse and subdued.

A complete contrast with two and half years ago when adoring Tory MPs would try desperately hard to impress Osborne asking helpful questions here and guffawing at every “gag” there.

But now what a turnaround.

As each day goes by and we hear more grim news about an economy that continues to flat line while government borrowing and debt continues to increase, it seems Tory MPs are literally deserting their chancellor. Future leaders now talked of are Norman, Afyirie, Johnson and Gove, not Osborne anymore. No wonder his punch lines this week were greeted with tumbleweed on the Tory benches.

Perhaps Tory MPs were saving themselves for the debate later that afternoon on the boundaries and boy did they vent their spleen. Take Portsmouth Tory MP Penny Mordaunt accusing the Liberal Democrats of “spite, pettiness and self-interest”, while at the same time appearing oblivious to the fact that the pain she was experiencing from this Lib Dem “betrayal” was as a result of the gun she had taken and fired at her own foot as a Tory ringleader of the Lords rebellion last year.

Tory MP after Tory MP spluttered about the impertinence of an unelected chamber telling the Commons how it’s elected members’ constituency boundaries should be drawn. The self same Tory MPs who had defended and voted for an unelected House of Lords just months earlier.

In a bravura performance the Liberal Democrat MP (and ex Lord) John Thurso put all such Tories in their place reminding his “friends on the government benches, in the mildest manner possible, that they have got what they wanted: the great, the good, the wise, the academic, the apolitical, the ex-public servants and the generals, whom they strove so hard to protect, have come together in their wisdom and given us amendment 5. I beg the House to support it.”

As the division bells rang we knew on the Labour side things were looking good as we marched through our lobby not only with the Liberal Democrats and almost all other parties but Tory rebels too. In fact I’m surprised there was not more Tory rebels as since the vote a number of Tory MPs whose seats were set to be abolished or radically changed have already approached Labour members in the tearoom thanking us for saving them.

As the result sank in, the prime minister looked furious – we know because oddly he was hanging around outside the Labour whips’ office after the vote. Why his minders hadn’t whisked him away is anyone’s guess though it’s probably indicative of the shambolic nature of this particular Number 10 operation.

Both William Hague and Ken Clarke (whose seat was set to be radically altered) missed the vote because of international issues and so were apparently “slipped” while junior justice minister Helen Grant missed the vote completely failing to turn up.

It hasn’t been a good start to the year for Ms Grant, the Justice minister had managed the night before on a different division to both vote in favour and against the same amendment in the same vote.

So as we head back to our constituencies we leave behind us demoralised troops on the Tory benches and Westminster corridors alive with plotters and schemers all gossiping and speculating about Cameron’s leadership.

But while the coalition now tear themselves apart, with the economy in the doldrums and families struggling to make ends meet it’s actually all just very depressing for the country who have to continue to put up with this lot.

Jon Ashworth is Labour MP for Leicester South and an opposition whip

Tags: , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Whip’s Notebook: The great boundary bust-up”

  1. swatantra says:

    I’ve got a feeling Nadine Dorries is behind all these scare stories and stalking horses. If she so wants to ditch Dave, then why in heavens name doesn’t she do the dirty deed herself. Mrs T put up against Ted not expecting to win, and the rest is history.

  2. Burkean Toryism lives on after all against the sophists, the economists and the calculators. It lives on in the persons of David Davis, Philip Davies, the great John Baron, and the redoubtable old constitutionalist Sir Richard Shepherd. Andrew Percy and Glynn Davies abstained. Why Ken Clarke and William Hague did not turn up, who dares to speculate?

    Even if there were nothing else to do, the solution to an alleged electoral bias against the Conservatives cannot be the abolition of scores of Shire Tory seats. In point of fact, the Conservative Party has been selecting candidates based on the existing boundaries for four months now, already resigned to the inevitable loss of this measure.

    A loss wholly unconnected to that of the 2015 General Election, which was going to happen entirely regardless of mere boundaries. Today, never mind after another two and a half years of this, even the allocation of 60 seats to each of the old eight Home Counties, with the other 170 shared out among every other part of the country, would still deliver a comfortable Labour overall majority.

    But the question now presents itself, of why we need constituency members, as we have lately known them, at all. We never used to have them. The House of Commons was there to represent communities, of greatly varying size both in area and in population, but nevertheless deemed to deserve equal representation according to a judgement which was qualitative rather than quantitative. The single-member constituency is also, in the great sweep of parliamentary history, a recent innovation, very far indeed from the historical norm.

    Each of 99 areas has a Lord Lieutenant, and each of the 91 in England, Scotland and Wales is a natural community. The eight in Wales are the “Preserved Counties”, over which a veil of discretion ought best to be drawn. Far better are the 13 historic counties of Wales. Giving possibly 99, but better 104, areas to return three MPs each. Each of us would vote for one candidate, with the top three elected. Possibly 297 MPs, but better 312.

    With the possible exception of Greater London, none of the nine English regions has the boundaries that purists would hope. But they do not, in point of fact, have anything to do with the EU, which merely asked the (Conservative) Government of the day which regions Britain had, and was sent the map already in place for many years by then, as that governing party had also been. Mercifully, we kept those who bray across the actual and virtual golf club bars away from the campaign against the North East Regional Assembly, or it might have been set up. Proponents of an English Parliament should consider that the people in it would be a combination of those who would have been on Regional Assemblies and those who bray across the actual and virtual golf club bars. It is imperative that the latter be kept away from any referendum campaign relating to the EU.

    Taking those imperfect, but at least existent and fairly longstanding, regions (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the nine in England), each of them would elect 20 party MPs and five Independents. Each of us would vote for one party, the one in first place would win five MPs, the one in second place four, the one in third place three, the one in fourth place two, and the next six one each. Each of us would vote for one Independent; the five highest scorers would be elected. 300 in all. Giving a total, possibly of 597, but preferably of 612.

Leave a Reply