“It is not OUR red boxes that will go”
I digressed, in my article in today’s Independent on Sunday about George Osborne’s tussle with Ed Balls, on the reforms testing the coalition: House of Lords and boundary changes. There was a connection, because I said that Osborne won the argument on the substance, namely a parliamentary rather than judicial inquiry into the banks, because, unlike in the case of the pointless Leveson inquiry, Nick Clegg delivered the Liberal Democrats to vote for it.
Anyway, the boundary review, equalising constituency electorates and cutting the number of seats in the House of Commons, is the tricky question for the future and it will make a difference to the outcome of the next election, because it would cut Labour’s total by 20 seats more than the Conservatives.
The decision will not come to a vote in the Commons until next year, but I quoted someone close to David Cameron saying, “It is not our red boxes that will go.” As I said, I think Clegg will choose to keep his ministerial red boxes rather than carry out the threat issued by Richard Reeves, his former adviser, to block the boundary changes.
In my digression, I did not explore this further, and may have over-simplified by suggesting that, if Clegg brought the coalition down over this, the result would be a general election. Of course, there is another option, a Tory minority government, which is what my source meant. That would involve the Tories keeping their red boxes while the Lib Dems would go back to the other side of the Commons chamber.
Either way, I think Clegg will try to deliver the boundary changes. The question then is how many of his party, and how many Tories, rebel. With a working majority of 83, it would take 42 coalition MPs to vote against the whip, or twice as many to abstain, to defeat the changes.
On a Namierite analysis (after Lewis Namier, who wrote The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III, analysing parliamentary votes according to the personal interests of individual MPs), it must be unlikely to get through the Commons. Labour lose out and the Lib Dems lose proportionally more. In addition, several Tories, such as Nadine Dorries, whose mid-Bedfordshire seat is to be abolished, stand to lose, despite their collective gain as a party.
The argument in principle for equal-sized constituencies is strong, but against brute self-interest only the glue of coalition discipline can save this one.Tagged in: boundary changes, coalition, conservative party, george osborne
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