By Paul Goodman
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There is a rush of interest in the boundary review. The Mail on Sunday reported yesterday that David Cameron is gearing up for another push. The Times reports today behind its paywall that William Macrea, the DUP MP, won't vote for it. The party may disagree with my view that without the changes David Cameron won't win a majority in 2015 - it could scarcely do otherwise - but its sense of urgency dovetails neatly with my analysis.
So it's worth reproducing the breakdown of the Commons numbers that I gave last year:
By Paul Goodman
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Reports suggest that Downing Street may seek to push the proposed boundary reforms through the Commons in alliance with Democratic Unionist MPs, Plaid Cyrmu MPs and even the SNP.
Let's leave aside for a moment the obstacles to the boundary changes winning the assent of the Lords (though the Commons can presumably have the final say if if it is determined to).
Let's also leave aside the problem of whether Conservative offers to the nationalist parties - such as a new Government of Wales Act - would win the support of the Liberal Democrats.
Instead, let's put the Commons numbers under a magnifying glass, and begin by assuming, sadly, that Labour will win the coming Corby by-election and keep the other seats it won in 2010.
By Peter Hoskin
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We have already committed Peter Kellner’s post on the electoral implications of constituency boundaries to our MustBeRead Twitter feed, but I thought I’d mention it here too. After all, the table he has produced (and that I’ve pasted below, click for a larger version) is an unadulterated, no-nonsense guide to how difficult it will be for the Conservatives to win the next election. Cut it out and keep it in your top pocket, lest you ever need a reminder.
By Paul Goodman
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"Mr Cameron singled out human rights law, reform of workplace rights and support for marriage as areas where Tory principles are being held in check but urged senior MPs growing tired of coalition not to ‘waste’ the next three years.
‘There is a growing list of things that I want to do but can’t, which will form the basis of the Conservative manifesto that I will campaign for right up and down the country,’ the Prime Minister said. ‘Be in no doubt, I want a Tory-only government.' "
By Matthew Barrett
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During last night's mayoral debate, the candidates reportedly agreed to release their tax returns. This arose from the fact that Ken Livingstone is suspected of keeping his taxes arranged in an exotic manner, so Boris Johnson and Conservatives in Parliament attacked Livingstone for his tax affairs, and therefore Ken began to question Boris' own arrangements. The day before last night's debate, Boris told Ken "You've got to stop lying" about his taxes, and the culmination of all these allegations is that all four candidates released their tax returns today, as ageed during the debate. Ken had a little more difficulty than the others, but that's a different issue to the one I wish to address.
Earlier this afternoon, the Independent on Sunday's John Rentoul tweeted: "That Americanisation was quite sudden. London mayoral politics now requires the publication of candidates' personal tax returns."
This is a very disappointing situation. I have two gut reactions to the idea that British politicians - one assumes all Parliamentary candidates may now have to do this in future - should release their tax returns. The first is that if we want Parliamentarians of the Carswell school - patriotic people who have decided to enter Parliament not for fame (Today programme fame, anyway), career advancement, or to cash in, we will quickly find the incentives for them to do so are running out. Not only will they endure the general distrust towards MPs as is currently the case, but in future they will be expected to undergo the public trial of having their tax returns released and examined by the local or national press. This is made more important by my second point.
In America, where candidates regularly release their tax returns, there is no great question of a divide in the wealth of candidates. That is to say, both candidates are likely to be millionaires, therefore the real reason for seeing their tax returns is to ensure they have clean records of handling their own affairs. They might use clever lawyers to pay a bit less tax than their opponent, or they might be making money from some sort of insider-y schemes that indicate corruption. Both of these would raise questions about the candidate.
By Matthew Barrett
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Over the last few days, Zac Goldsmith MP has noted the mysterious disappearance of the Coalition's proposed "recall" system for MPs.
The point of recalls is for constituents to be able to remove their MP if he or she has committed a crime, or claimed suspicious expenses, etc. However, the Coalition's proposals for a recall system would mean a by-election could only be triggered if the MP has either been sentenced to more than a year in jail, or if a Commons committee decided a Member's behaviour was bad enough to warrant a by-election. Then if 10% of the MP's constituents signed a petition calling for a by-election, one would take place.
There are two obvious points to make here:
By Matthew Barrett
Clegg sounded keen to compromise, and stressed that the White Paper contained options, rather than a clear and straightforward blueprint for reform.
Clegg announced the reforms today, but he won't be responsible for carrying them through. Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£) today reported that the Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Mark Harper MP, both Conservatives, will be responsible for "selling" the reforms.
It's unlikely that these Lords reforms will pass through the Commons without major revision - questions from all sides of the House were overwhelmingly hostile to the plans. Last month on ConservativeHome, the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire, Jesse Norman, set out why plans for replacing the House of Lords with an elected alternative should not be a priority - and that was very much the sentiment of other members.
In terms of support in the Lords, a new poll for ComRes today shows a large majority of Lords oppose reforms, and think it unlikely any such reforms will pass during this current Parliament. A representative cross-section of 121 Peers were asked about:
By Tim Montgomerie
The big winner of this election cycle is David Cameron. Conservative HQ was expecting 500 losses in council elections but the party may have added 60 or so councillors to the blue column. The party has gained in Wales (although Nick Bourne, the party's Assembly leader, was sadly defeated). The result in Scotland was disappointing but the Tories were not as badly damaged by the Salmond surge as the Lib Dems or Ed Miliband.
The key explanation for the unexpectedly good result is the No2AV campaign. There are many reasons for the campaign's success and I'll be setting them out in detail in a 5,000 word essay on Sunday morning. The Tories' million pound Get Out The Vote operation saved many of our councillors by energising many more of our voters to go to the polls than in a normal mid-term electoral cycle. I hope the many people who contributed to these operations will forgive me for singling out Matthew Elliott, No2AV's campaign director, for praise today.
Over the last few weeks and months Matthew has been subject to endless attacks from Westminster's chattering class. He was fighting on the wrong issues, we were told. He was too negative. He was wrong to target Nick Clegg. But he has won and he has probably won big. Electoral reform has probably been defeated for a generation. Elliott has fought a campaign that was derided by the Westminster pundits but ruthlessly followed best practice in market research. Not only did he fight a national campaign - difficult enough for any person - he had the skill and basic likeability to lead what could have been a difficult cross-party campaign.
The man who created the influential TaxPayers' Alliance has now helped to save First Past The Post for two decades or more. I want to thank him publicly and acknowledge him as a new star of the centre right. Brilliant job Matthew. I hope you'll be available to lead an In/Out referendum in the not too distant future...
By Tim Montgomerie
The overnight opinion polls look ominous for the Yes to AV campaign. YouGov gives the No campaign an 18% lead. A ComRes survey for The Independent gives No a whopping 32% lead.
No will be boosted by a massive effort by Fleet Street this morning to get Britain to reject AV. On ConHome's front page we list the latest newspapers to urge their readers to keep First Past The Post. The Mirror has, belatedly, backed Yes (as a way of kicking Cameron) but it has done so too late and with too little editorial clout to even to begin to change the fact that the Labour vote is split on what to do.
If you want to understand why Chris Huhne, in particular, is behaving so appallingly you have to understand the importance of electoral reform to the Liberal Democrats. That's the subject of Danny Finkelstein's Times column (£):
"Electoral reform has long been everything to Liberal Democrats. The solution to every problem, the title to every policy paper, the chorus to every song. I promise you. You have to have seen it to believe it. Thus for Liberal Democrats, finally — after all that talking, all those motions, all that work — getting a referendum on electoral reform and losing it is a catastrophe. A total and complete catastrophe. It would be something like the impact on the UK Independence Party of finally forcing a referendum on membership of the European Union and then having the other side win. It wouldn’t be a passing nuisance, it would be an historic setback. Now, it isn’t over. Unpredictable turnout makes the result unpredictable. But I think it is fair to say that my friends’ countenance reflects the expectations among Lib Dems in the Government that they are highly likely to lose. And that this would be, for them, a bad thing."
By Tim Montgomerie
Politicians all across the country of every colour probably enjoyed the Prime Minister's interview on Today. So many have been monstered by John Humphrys over the years and it was good to hear a politician hitting back. Asked about AV Mr Humphrys didn't seem to understand how and when voters' second preferences were counted. He also seemed to imply that elections in the USA weren't conducted under First Past The Post. Mr Cameron enjoyed pointing out both of his interviewer's errors.
In the interview the Prime Minister trod a careful line - distinguishing between his own No2AV campaign - run 100% by Tory HQ - and the independent, cross-party No campaign. Mr Cameron said that he wasn't responsible for the output of the operation overseen by Matthew Elliott (which has drawn such bitter criticism from Liberal Democrats) but he also declined to disown the No campaign's claims about the cost of a change to the voting system. He said that counting machines probably were likely and defended the poster campaigns that have suggested AV might cost up to £250 million.
He repeated his arguments in favour of FPTP. It was a simple, fair and decisive system where the candidates with the most votes win.
The other big theme of the interview was Pakistan. The Prime Minister insisted that it was in Britain's interests to continue to back the democratic forces inside the country who were fighting terrorism. He argued that Pakistan had suffered more at the hands of terrorism than almost any other country on earth. Yes, there were questions to be asked about how bin Laden's base was not known to Pakistan's security services but Britain would not turn its back on the country. If we give up, he said, we'll leave a nuclear power that could be taken over by instability and extremism.
Asked about his "calm down dear" remark at last week's PMQs he said that people needed to get a sense of humour.
Earlier on the programme Nick Clegg had been interviewed. He admitted that the Coalition was moving into a new phase. He said it was important in the first year of Coalition that the two governing parties showed real unity but that the parties were seperate and would remain separate and there would be more distinctive positioning in the future.