Given a lot of people have asked me the same questions, here are some quick pointers about the legal technicalities of Nick Clegg’s statement on the boundary changes.

First, the Boundary Commissions review process continues unaffected. The Boundary Commissions will still report their revised recommendations, probably in October, then final recommendations sometime next year. Once they’ve delivered their reports to the government the Secretary of State is required to lay a draft order implementing them before Parliament and there will be a vote on whether or not to adopt them.

All of this is set down in legislation and, unless the law is changed, has to happen even if everyone knows the Commons are going to vote them down. Of course, it would be possible to change the law to stop the currently ongoing review, for example, as Lord Rennard has suggested today, by inserting an extra clause in the existing Electoral Administration Bill. In Nick Clegg’s statement today, however, he suggested that David Cameron did not wish to do this and wanted to bring the review to a vote.

This could be because Cameron hopes to negotiate further with the Lib Dems on the issue in the next year, or strike deals with minor parties to get the boundaries through… or perhaps he just doesn’t want to re-open the can of worms of primary legislation on boundary reviews after the difficult passage of the earlier legislation. It is, however, worth noting that this means the boundary review isn’t dead yet – James Forsyth here suggests that Downing Street still has hopes of getting it passed.

Assuming that doesn’t happen though, what happens next? Well, the vote next year is only to implement the Boundary Commissions recommendations – it won’t affect the changes to the rules or frequency of boundary reviews that last year’s legislation introduced. As such the next election will be fought on the existing boundaries, but afterwards the Boundary Commission will once again start a new review, still based on the new rules, still aimed at reducing the Commons to 600 seats… and it will keep on doing so every Parliament unless the law is changed.

If Labour win the next election I would expect them to amend the rules, most likely to move away from reviews every 5 years to reviews every 8-12 years as previously (or possibly, given the noises they made about linking boundary revisions to resident population rather than registered electorate, linking boundary reviews to the ten yearly census).

32 Responses to “Some thoughts on the boundary review “pause button””

  1. First? Thanks for clarifying this technical stuff Anthony, it’s handy.

  2. It will be interesting to see whether the Libdems vote on the boundary changes at conference. It may not come up; but if it does & conference votes to oppose, then Clegg’s hands are tied regardless of any deal which David Cameron wants to do.

    Regarding David Cameron pushing ahead with the support of other Parties, first he has to make sure his own backbench will support it. Don’t rule out the possibility that some Conservatives might be ‘off sick’ that day.

  3. Although you would expect me to say this, but the Labour proposals you mention Anthony, of a review every 8-12 years and equalising based on population seem very sensible, and should gather cross-party support.

    Whether it would or not is another matter, and I think we do need cross-party consensus on this, othewise we will just have governments changing the rules every time there is an election, and thats definitely not in the best interest of democracy.

  4. But then again, some movement – even if it then gets reversed by the next government – is better than a standstill, which is usually what happens when there needs to be a consensus. I agree with the Labour proposals re population size rather than electorate.

    Anyways, could the Tories realistically negotiate with minor parties? On these proposals it would appear Plaid and SNP have no incentive to support them (and in fact vested interests in stopping them) and the DUP only amount to 8 – even if they persuaded them they’d need another five (presuming the opposition make sure everyone turns up).

  5. True. And good points.

    But any boundary changes are dead to all intents and purposes until after the next election.

    There are so many parliamentary ways that Labour – now with LibDem support – can get around the vote that it just wont pass.

  6. I suspect what might happen is that legislation is brought forward which keep Parliament at 650 seats but sets a UK wide quota.

    This could would mean that Wales and urban areas would lose a number of constituencies with additional seats being created in the home counties. In a stroke this would advantage the Tories comparable with the 600 seat proposal but with half the aggro(ie Tory MP’s are protected) and generally most Lib Dem’s retain their seats.

    I can’t believe Cameron would want to fight the next election on the current boundaries if he can get away with it.

    Suspect the current review will be suspended in the autumn pending new rules with the Boundary Commission asked to submit a report with additional seats by Spring 2014.

  7. The DUP are unlikely to vote for the changes, despite the reduction in MLAs seats it would ensure (a DUP policy) as they are in a position to have more power over a future minority government, which is more likely under the present boundaries. Without them, where can the Tories go?

  8. Utter stupidity from the Tories. They’ve thrown away the chance of a majority at the next election over an issue most people don’t care about.

  9. As David Cameron certainly hasn’t jettisoned the boundary changes plans yet (quite the reverse), we can only assume he has something planned for next year to get it passed. Otherwise, he would just put an end to it all and avoid further embarrassment.

  10. “Utter stupidity from the Tories. They’ve thrown away the chance of a majority at the next election over an issue most people don’t care about.”

    It would undoubtedly be a blow to the Tories, but the boundary changes are certainly not the panacea that many Tories claimed it would be. It would only result in a net gain of around 20 seats, so whilst significant it’s not by any means a disaster (or game over) for the Tories. It just makes a majority a bit harder/and or a Labour majority a bit easier.

    But we still don’t know what will happen with the boundaries yet. David Cameron still thinks he can get them passed, so we can only assume he has something planned. We’ll just have to wait and see.

  11. Looks like Labour is aiming for twice the number of seats per vote than the Tories, not satisfied with the current imbalance…

    Tory MP for England South and West,

    Labour MP for numbers 1-73 Monsall Lane, Monsall.

  12. It’s actually not bad politics from DC. The LDs don’t have a chance for revenge until next year at the earliest. A lot can (and will) happen between now and then, and the LDs may talk the talk but very rarely recently have they ultimately walked the walk. He’s calling their bluff

    Which of course pre-supposes that DC actually had a viable choice. Proceeding with up to 20 days of the Autumn session on Lord’s reform could have cost him his job.

  13. David Cameron still thinks he can get them passed, so we can only assume he has something planned. We’ll just have to wait and see.
    He can’t; & he doesn’t. He’s hoping something will turn up. Even the Telegraph is saying that several Tories don’t want the reduction in MPs & the boundary changes. Having read the comments made by LD & Tory MP “sources”, this will be quietly shelved. DC has nothing to offer the LDs which would give them the 15 – 20 MPs which the boundary changes would see them lose at the next election.

  14. I doubt even the LibDems can be negotiated with once more over this issue or they may begin to look like the grand old Duke of York & judging by the behaviour of the upper echelons in both parties it looks very much like to me that Clegg is all but committed to another coalition with the Conservative Party after 2014/15.

    Whether his part feels the same is an open question. But Clegg was carefully rude to Milliband and Labour over his HOL failures which doesn’t sound like he would want to be in a Labour led government. not that he may be asked after this & Labour if it gets into power is almost certainly going to change Fixed Term Parliaments Law in addition….

  15. @ Amber Star

    David Cameron still thinks he can get them passed, so we can only assume he has something planned. We’ll just have to wait and see.
    He can’t; & he doesn’t.



    If the LD’s stick to what Clegg outlined yesterday then there is no way Cameron can now pass them.

    The boundary changes for 2015 are finished.

    This is a dead issue.

    It breathes no more.

    Nailing it to the perch will make no difference.

  16. ‘Looks like Labour is aiming for twice the number of seats per vote than the Tories, not satisfied with the current imbalance…

    Tory MP for England South and West,

    Labour MP for numbers 1-73 Monsall Lane, Monsall’

    Not sure its quite as stark as that currently. At the 2010 election, dividing votes by seats gives 34,979 for the Tories against 33,359 for Labour (i.e. a less than 5% difference). It was certainly more in earlier elections. Obviously there is a big aritmetic imbalance when comparing either Lab or Con to Lib Dems

  17. “He can’t; & he doesn’t.”

    I disagree. There are currently 305 Tory Mps, and it is very unlikely that any will dare to defy the whips and vote against Cameron’s reforms. To get it passed, it would require some Lib abstentions (or votes in favour) and some support from the other parties. Not necessarily likely, but still by no means impossible – which I suspect is why Osborne and Cameron haven’t given up hope to get it passed just yet.

  18. Ambivalent said “I disagree. There are currently 305 Tory Mps, and it is very unlikely that any will dare to defy the whips and vote against Cameron”

    Where were you when more than 100’s MP’s rebelled (vote No or Abstain) and defied a 3 line whip over the House of Lords Reform, and a similar number defied the whips to vote in favour of an EU referendum.

    The backbench Tories are in no way loyal to Cameron, the whole reason House of Lord Reform has been shelved is because Cameron no longer has control over his backbenchers! If he did, HOL reform would have been passed without a hitch.

    Cameron needs to play to his base, the coalition I think will survive until May 2014, but it gets shakier by the week. Cameron has the unenviable task of keeping both the left (Lib Dems) and the right (Tory backbenchers) in this coalition together. If he tries to placate the 50 Lib Dem MP’s he risks rebellion from 100 Tory MP’s, and vice versa, placating the right, means he alienates the 50 Lib Dems. Both sides are needed for the government to pass laws.

    Finally, do we take this as Mr Clegg himself confirming, in his speech yesterday that he doesn’t vote for what he thinks is right, he votes for things in return for other favours?

  19. @Anmary,

    The Tories will be forced to be loyal on this issue by the whips, or face serious (personal) consequences. That’s the big difference. Even those who don’t support it (and it’s far fewer in number than the house of Lords reform!) will be forced to vote it through.

    There’s obviously a greater chance now that the changes won’t go through, but it’s still possible that Cameron could get the required numbers (from others/a few abstentions and/or votes from the Libs, for instance) to be able to get the boundary changes through. That’s why he hasn’t deserted it just yet.

  20. @Anmary,

    The coalition will likely survive until the general election of 2015. Both the Tories and Libs would be committing electoral suicide if they broke up the coalition before then (and they know it!). They would effectively be handing a Labour victory on a plate.

    Having said, that there is no doubt that the recent dispute has changed the dynamics of the coalition. Instead of a cosier, more cooperative relationship between both parties, expect a lot more political wrangling and nastiness in the years ahead. Not a good advert for coalition governments, you might say!

  21. This is no way to go about constitutional reform.

  22. Cameron was in Wales today and insisted the boundary changes would still be consulted on, time for these unwanted proposals to be scrapped.

    Come on Clegg sort it out!!!

    What happens if all the Lib Dem MPs vote against these proposals, will the Lib Dem ministers have to resign? Interesting…

  23. Splitting the coalition might seem madness now, but if Labour were to win an election this year, the economic mess is far from over.

    Mervyn King said before 2010 “this is a very good election to lose” which has nearly been proven correct, except Labour are still blamed for the economic mess in every opinion poll.

    Miliband would go into the election with an anti-cuts message, romp home and subsequently have to either implement vicious, savage cuts or watch our credit rating drop like a stone. Neither are that appealing, both would probably render him the worst Prime Minister ever.

    For the country, it’d be awful…. politically however, the Tories and Liberals could legitimately say “told you so”, which in the long run might do more damage to Labour than anything else.

    Whatever happens, the Tories have shot their own fox by sacrificing the boundaries for Lords Reform. Britain is becoming a multi-party system, especially in Scotland and Wales, and with a resurgent UKIP, greens carving out a heartland in Brighton (don’t write off the Libs either, their election machine is impressive and the core vote is very much still there in the south west and posh city seats).

    A Tory majority is probably never going to happen again now. That is Dave’s legacy. The only way he could save himself is either (a) u-turning on electoral reform and going for a proportional system, which looks humiliating…or (b) breaking coalition and watching Miliband destroy the British economy before saying “told you so” at the next election.

  24. I am glad the boundary review is being “killed off.” The boundaries of the constituency and borough where I live are not co-terminus. Three borough wards are in a Labour seat. To make up the quota a Tory ward on the other side of the river in a Tory seat was to be added on. The boundary commission appeared to have a pre-determined agenda and seem determined to create a safe Tory seat. In the same borough, the grossly unequal ward electorates favour Labour and the Lib Dems.

  25. Anthony – you have left out an incredibly significant factor, the proposed introduction of Individual voter Registration which the Electoral Commission estimates will affect boundaries changes by resulting in 30% under-registration in poorer more diverse (Labour voting) areas. The reduction to 600 seats and the introduction of IVR appears to be two parts of the same project. I would be very interested to see some analysis of how the polls played out in this environment.

  26. Linking constituencies to resident population is a good idea, but it’s not going to be done via the Census. Barring a major rethink, there aren’t going to be any more Censuses – the last few have had major holes in their coverage, so the last government took the decision to make 2011 the final Census and gather the data in future from other sources. Consultations about how to do this are still going on; it’s not impossible that the 2021 Census will happen after all, but it’s not looking likely.

  27. There is a problem with linking the boundary review to the 10 yearly census in that there were lots of noises with the 2011 census that the 2011 census would be the last one as it was “too expensive”.

    In future it would be statistical estimation that determined numbers and thus boundary sizes.

  28. Some questions to consider…
    I guess thecurrent inbalance is weighted towards Labour in the current constituencies but if the idea of constitutional reforn is to aim for fairness would the introduction of some form of PR be fairer?
    If we are not going to replace FPTP with PR then shouldn’t the boundaries, at least, be decided by an independant organisation?
    Would a TRUELY independant organisation be possible to achieve?

  29. Is individidual voting registration still going ahead? If so, when does it come into force?

    From what I’ve read on the issue, it will be generally advantageous to the Tories and very disadvantageous for Labour. Have to say I support it, though – if voters want to vote, they should have to register individually. It’s designed to tackle voter fraud, which in the present system is widespread and all too common.

  30. AmbSupp – the legislation for IER has passed through the Commons and is currently going through the Lords. It is not particularly contentious given all parties support the principle of moving from household registration to individual registration, and most of the early concerns have been addressed (e.g. there will still be a fine for non-cooperation with the canvas).

    The main point of difference between the parties on it now seems to be arrangements for its introduction in 2015 and the carry over of people on the 2014 register to make sure people don’t drop off the 2015 register that will be used for the next boundary review.

    INDEPENDANTCHRIS1 – the boundaries are recommended by the independent Boundary Commissions

  31. Thanks Anthony,

    Is it possible that the reversion to IER will hit Labour as hard if not worse than boundary reviews, as some are indeed suggesting? I know the reversion to IER will only concern postal and proxy voters at the 2015 GE, but thereafter it will involve everyone.

  32. AmbivalentSupporter & Anthony

    IVR remains fairly disadvantageous to Labour. However, Jack Straw got himself (and the Party not paying attention) into this gnarly issue while in government and therefore all parties are tied up in it.

    It does NOT address the corruption issue which I would dearly see removed from our system (I live in a high electoral fraud area). The electoral administrators must be empowered to fight the electoral fraud. no administrative officers at any level are allowed to challenge a voter for impersonating another. The electoral officers do not have the powers to investigate registrations. Consequently the electoral roll in many places is really quite misleading. I’ve seen several cases of same name, same address, same birthday (only 17 year olds have birth dates included) which means one person, several voting cards – and i’m told the electoral registration officer cannot remove all but one.

    But this is off-topic. The point is that many people for many reasons are expected by the Electoral Commission not to register under IVR. There is no need for those individuals to vote. But the CONSTITUENCIES are based on the electoral register. If we switch to IVR, then we should probably switch away from the electoral roll as the basis of the constituency size.

    In future there will be Censuses done – but probably in a different format. Doing a Census is an international treaty obligation. The method is not laid out. Compilation of administrative data has proved to be *fairly* accurate.