by Greig Baker
Sometimes when my 4yr old gets told off, she misbehaves even more – thinking that if she’s in trouble already, she might as well go the whole hog. The government has taken the same approach in its boundary review for Parliamentary constituencies. The Cabinet Office’s newly published details show the government is not looking to compromise. Instead, it is upping the ante, in the hope that while many of its own backbenchers will be unhappy, the reforms are an even bigger problem for Labour – and one that, perversely, the Labour leadership might be quite happy to have.
The politics to the boundary changes is threefold…
First, the government is sticking with a maximum 5% variance in constituency size, above or below the average, which means a greater number of seats will change. This makes it more likely Cameron will stay on for as long as possible, so that he takes the flack for the reforms and leaves his successor to smooth ruffled Tory feathers. It’s also the reason Corbyn might welcome the review, as it lets his team get cracking with deselecting more of those pesky, voter-friendly, centrist Labour MPs.
Second, and vitally, the reforms will be based on the number of voters actually on the electoral register – not the local population. This is a major disadvantage for Labour and will be one of the government’s sweeteners for angry Conservative MPs.
And the third factor is probably the one the ‘essay crisis’ Prime Minister has paid least attention to – the government admits the boundary reforms will unbalance the cross-community representation in Westminster currently offered by Northern Irish MPs. Without knowing exactly what the new Northern Irish constituencies will look like, the government could be risking its relationship with unionists here, which is no small beer given the precarious nature of a Parliamentary majority that only just scrapes into double figures.
In the next 24 months we’ll find out whether these proposals are workable, or if the government has just consigned itself to the naughty step.
Greig Baker is Chief Executive at The GUIDE Consultancy