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The scale of the Conservatives’ boundary problem

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.

Peter Kellner's table

What this table shows, in the bold row, is the number of seats that the Tories won at the last election under the current boundaries (putting them 19 short of a majority) and the number of seats they would have won under David Cameron’s proposed boundary changes (putting them only two short of a majority, which would have negated the need for coalition with the Lib Dems). It then offers different permutations for the next election. For instance, if Labour were to win by 1 percentage point on the current boundaries, they would enjoy a majority of 2 seats. If it was under the changed boundaries, they would be 14 seats short.

Mr Kellner adds important details, explaining the assumptions and calculations that have gone into his table, but it all comes down to this:

“For the Conservatives to win an overall majority under the current boundaries, they need a seven point lead in the popular vote … However, under the proposed boundaries, they would need to lead Labour by just 3.8%.”

Or, as he goes on to put it, “If [the Conservatives] have to fight the next election on the existing boundaries, they suffer a penalty equivalent to a 1.6% swing.” This, I suspect, is the fear behind Mr Cameron’s decision to press on with the vote on the proposed boundary changes, even though Nick Clegg has said that his party will oppose it. The Prime Minister realises that, without the changes, his task would be considerably harder. And — who knows? — something might turn up. The Telegraph's Benedict Brogan is today speculating whether a deal might be struck over party funding.

This is the doubt that has been sown by Nick Clegg's decision to link Lords reform and the boundary review, in contradiction to what the Coalition Agreement suggests. While he may have been trying to keep the Coalition together, it has — if the situation doesn't change — made that same Coalition (let alone a Tory majority) less likely after the next election.

It’s worth reading Peter Kellner’s full post here.


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