The proposals of the Boundary Commission, to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600, have finally been made public. And although the rationale looks sound, with talk of evening out constituency sizes and claims of “fairness”, the result, if implemented, would be to favour the Tories. This has not been lost on sitting MPs, party workers, and commentators. One example highlights the occasionally blatant nature of the shift.
As the BBC’s Phil McCann noted yesterday, “The final constituency boundary changes have been made public - Crewe & Nantwich will still gain Audlem under the plans, despite opposition from Labour which has a razor thin majority of 48”. Constituency that has swung between Labour and Tory twice in the past decade gets solidly Tory area tacked on to it. Colour me cynical, because I am cynical.
Even the momentary joy at seeing Tatton abolished has been tempered by the realisation that the appalling Esther McVey might show up elsewhere in the North West. Then there is that overall slant to the Tories. As the BBC has reported “According to analysis of the final proposals by politics professors Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, of Plymouth University, the Conservatives would have won a 16-seat majority at the last general election under the redrawn boundaries”.
Owen Jones put it another way: “The Tories only got 2.4% more than Labour last year, but under the boundary proposals would have got 76 more seats. It's not just a pisstake, it's an affront to democracy”. The Tories would have secured 308 of the 600 seats - hence the majority - with Labour way back on 232. Labour MP Graham Morris put it more bluntly.
“Final boundary recommendations are nothing but a premeditated power grab by the Tories. Tories gain huge electoral advantage. Labour would need to be 11 points ahead of Tories to win a Parliamentary majority according to Electoral Calculus”. As opposed to the Tories getting a majority with a mere 2.4% advantage.
But, as Morris’ fellow MP Angela Rayner observed, all may not be lost: “No sooner had the Boundary Commission final report landed the Tories appear to be now shelving it! It has been a long and expensive process and all because the Tories were attempting to gerrymander and power grab. A complete waste of time & public money”.
Was this true? Paul Waugh at the HuffPost was sure it was: “An embattled Theresa May has postponed a Commons showdown on plans to slash the number of Parliamentary seats after Tory rebels looked set to defeat her … As the Boundary Commission published its final proposals to cut Westminster’s constituencies from 650 to 600, it emerged that the Government has backed off moves to stage the key vote next month”.
That may have not been unconnected to some senior Tories having their constituencies made seriously marginal: Uxbridge and South Ruislip, currently represented by London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, would have nearby Northolt added to it, turning his nominal majority from its current 5,000 to just 500.
Yes, the Boundary Commission-approved Tory gerrymandering may have been kicked into the long grass. But eternal vigilance, and all that. Don’t think they won’t try it on again.
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