The Lords (including Lib Dem ministers) have voted in favour of an amendment to the Electoral Registration Bill that bangs another nail into the coffin of the boundary review. The amendment changes the law so that instead of the boundary review having to report before this October, the commissions cannot report until after October 2018, killing the review for this Parliament.

The bill now returns to the Commons, where David Cameron has three choices:

1) He tries, and probably fails, to overturn the amendment in the Commons. Obviously this will be tricky to do with the Lib Dems supporting the amendment, it will lead to coalition friction by Conservative MPs seeing Lib Dem ministers voting against the government and keeping their jobs. It would, however, deliver Cameron’s promise fro last week of having a Commons vote on the boundaries…even if it is at one remove.

2) He withdraws the Bill, or tries to use the Parliament Act to pass it, as suggested in the Sunday Telegraph at the weekend. For our immediate purposes these are the same, the Electoral Registration Bill is withdrawn and reintroduced next session, after the Boundary Commissions have reported, meaning the Commons vote on implementing them will go ahead. Whether it is worthwhile messing up the passage of the Electoral Registration Bill when it looks extremely unlikely that the Commons would approve the new boundaries is a different question – it would at least mean that the recommendations were there ready for future implementation in the case of a Conservative majority after the next election, or if something entirely unexpected comes along to change minds. It also means the promise to have a proper Commons vote on implementing it is kept and the spectacle of Lib Dem ministers voting against the government is delayed for now.

3) They accept the boundaries are dead and accept the amendment, avoiding Lib Dem and Conservative ministers voting against each other and keeping the Electoral Registration Bill… but at the cost of failing to allow the Commons to vote on the matter (and in the eyes of Conservative backbenchers, giving into the Lib Dems). The third option also gives the government the option of replacing the rebel amendment with a better one that does the same thing … as I mentioned in the comments to the last post, the current legislation effectively requires the Boundary Commissions to report at least 18 months before a general election so there is proper time to implement the boundaries, for returning officers to make the necessary arrangements, parties to reorganise local associations and select candidates. Under the amendment the boundary commissions will have to report at most eighteen months before the 2020 election, which has the potential to cause chaos if not enough time is left. If you did want to delay the next boundary review to 2018, much better to have the clause say “before October 2018, but not before 2017” or something like that.

For all intents and purposes the review appears dead now (there are theoretically ways it could be got through, but with the SNP seemingly suggesting they’ll also vote against they all require quite a suspension of disbelief), but time will tell if Cameron keeps it on life support for reasons of optimism or party/coalition management.


70 Responses to “Boundary Review Update”

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  1. That is a very good article,AW.

    I suspect Cameron will find some way of keeping the bill alive to keep some optimism going as it`s rejection may create problems for his leadership.I doubt very much that he`ll allow it to come to a head at the end of this month,so Option 2 is the most likely.

  2. Shame on the Lib-Dems. they have welched on the deal struck in the coalition Agreement.

  3. Think that Cameron will choose to move on and accept the amendment. Not worth creating more tensions between Lib Dems and Tories. There are still many difficult decisions ahead, for which Cameron will need the Lib Dems on board. If he picks a fight on this, then I can see the Lib Dems becoming more awkward.

  4. The Tories have identified 40 seats which they hold but must fight to keep. Optimism is all very well but false pessimism can undo a defensive campaign. The incumbent MPs think: Why work my @ss off for a constituency which may not even exist?

    So, I think Cameron has to either go for a vote soon or make it clear that he cannot get it done & move on.

  5. My question to Anthony is: Will he now start the process of updating the constituency guide?

    If he does my bet is thats as good as indication as any that the boundary review aint happening.

  6. @ John Moss

    There are four ways can think of looking at this:

    1) The Conservatives have already broken the coalition agreement by blocking the Lords reform. In which case, there Conservatives have no grounds to complain when the Lib Dems do the same.

    2) You can point to a technicality that the agreement only said a Bill would be introduced, not that the Conservatives would support it. In which case, the Lib Dems can also use their own technicality that there was nothing in the coalition that said they had to vote through the statutory instrument, only the Act of Parliament. (In fact, those tenuous loopholes could be used to dodge pretty much the entire coalition agreement.)

    3) Or you can say that it’s nothing to do with the letter of the agreement, it’s the spirit of the agreement that matter. In which case, I’d say the Conservatives forfeited that claim when the implictly endorse a vitriolic hate campaign against their own coalition partners in the AV referendum.

    4) Or you can just forget all that and say that the the junior partner, the Lib Dems should put up and shut up or leave. Which you can believe if you like, but I could just turn this round and say if that’s what the Tories believe, why don’t they just go ahead and chuck the Lib Dems out, which they are constitutionally entitled to do (just as the Lib Dems and constitutionally entitled to promptly vote for Labour-led government or a general election).

    Whichever way you look at it, I find it hard to consider the Tories the wronged party in this.

  7. I have to say I’m ambivalent about the Boundary Review and reduction in MPs. The party political animal in me is pleased that changes that may well have benefited the Tories at the next General Election now look as if they will no longer take place, certainly not before another election occurs on the existing Labour-friendly boundaries. So far so good, but the objective democrat in me can’t be entirely happy with an electoral system that is so manifestly unfair, not just marginally to the Tories on the basis of uneven constituency sizes, but more generally to the smaller parties by dint of the iniquitous FPTP system.

    As I’ve said before, the argument over boundaries and constituency sizes between the Tories and Labour has the moral equivalence of a row between two burglars over the share out of their ill-gotten spoils. Do I get to form a Government with 37% of the popular vote or do you? Well, actually, in a representative and proportionate electoral system, neither of you should is the proper answer. A combination of constituency boundaries and FPTP has now skewed the rotten system in Labour’s favour where in earlier times it was skewed it in the Tories favour. The real scandal is that it’s skewed against the Lib Dems ALL of the time, as it is for a multiplicity of other smaller parties too. That’s why I struggle to shed too many tears for Cameron’s frustration at not being able to yank the tiller of the old tub back in his party’s direction. It’s still an old tub, revised boundaries or not.

    So, it looks like, as with the AV Referendum outcome, that we’re stuck where we are in terms of electoral systems. Accordingly, I think it’s beholden on all the parties to do everything they can to drive up political engagement, voter registration and turnout. That way, we might be able to squeeze a semblance of democratic credibility out of the discredited FPTP system and avoid another occupant of Number 10 sitting there on the basis of less than 20% of the UK adult population voting for him or her.

    Thinking about the politics for a minute, I wonder if all this isn’t the revenge of Clegg for Cameron’s double-dyed behaviour on the AV Referendum. He claims his scuppering of the Boundary Review is in retaliation for the Tories ruination of his flagship Lords Reform proposals, but my guess is that Clegg hasn’t forgiven Cameron for what he did to him on AV. What was that old saying? Rats in a sack, I think. lol

  8. If the recent article by Peter Kellner is correct (saying Con could get a majority on old boundaries with a lead of only 4%) then losing the boundary review may be much less serious for the Conservatives than many people think.

    Every current Con marginal seat is a seat they gained in 2010 so they will benefit from first time incumbency in almost every single case (unless the MP retires which should be very rare).

    If they can get an incumbency boost of even 1% (ie 1% better vote share than UNS and opponents combined get 1% worse) then they will be very close to completely offsetting the loss of the boundary changes.

    I do wonder if Cameron realised this all along and that’s why he gave up on Lords reform so quickly without trying much harder to push it through – ie he realised the boundary changes weren’t actually as critical as most people thought.

  9. “I wonder if all this isn’t the revenge of Clegg for Cameron’s double-dyed behaviour on the AV Referendum.”

    I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if this was the real reason – not just the result, but the way the campaign against them was run.

    To have done so straight after the referendum result would have made them look, fairly or unfairly, like poor loser. Lords reform was simply the excuse they were waiting for.

    And, quite frankly, I don’t blame them in the least for doing this.

  10. Anthony,

    There is always the nuclear option, between now and the commons vote public ally put the party on an election footing, appoint a campaign manager and call the cabinet to Chequers to discuss the election manifesto.

    It shows gut it would rally the party as they hate the LibDems and Clegg and co know that an election now would decimate them. On paper the Tories would lose, but there would be a budget first and offer of a referendum on the EU and Labour aren’t ready.

    Logic says wait till things get better but that is what Brown did!

    Peter.

  11. @CROSSBAT11

    I agree with you that replacing one skewed system with another is no way for electoral reform.With several elections including the Scottish Parliament,European Parliament and London mayoral election involving another voting system,this is the way to go for electoral reform IMO.

    Had the Tories realised UKIP would be polling >10%,perhaps they might have nodded the AV reform through.

  12. PETERCAIRNS

    “call the cabinet to Chequers to discuss the election manifesto.”

    Well – some of the Cabinet!

  13. @PeterCairns

    Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011. The one that Cameron proposed.

  14. The sheep,

    I thought there was the option to go to the country if the government loses a vote of confidence. If Labour called for one an Tories abstained….

    Where there’s a will…

    Peter.

  15. “I do wonder if Cameron realised this all along and that’s why he gave up on Lords reform so quickly without trying much harder to push it through – ie he realised the boundary changes weren’t actually as critical as most people thought.”

    Thats fine if the Conservatives can win a majority of their own in 2015 which even with the incumbency factor you outline is still going to require a fairly sharp change in the current polls and most likely a points lead over Labour. Seemingly most unlikely.

    And the tilt of the current boundaries in favour of Labour will remain, and indeed will only continue to worsen for all other parties, for all of the elections to come.

    Really on the whole issue of electoral reform I do find the attitude of the Conservative Party really bone headed. They are disadvantaged by the current FPTP system and yet they avow to retain it at all cost.

    They have a lifeline made possible by the proposed Boundary Review and they throw that away by their backbencher being ridiculously stubborn over something as trifling as Lords Reform.

    Honestly some of these people seem afflicted more by the desire to be right (as they see it) than to winners. Not I would vouch a method to bring about much electoral success.

  16. @PeterCairns

    In principle, you now need a 2/3 majority to call an election.

    In practice, there is a loophole that allows an election to be called on a simple majority, which involves a vote of no confidence in the Government then refusing a vote of confidence in any alternative government …

    … But there again, Labour might decide to make the Lib Dems an offer they can’t refuse as part of a Labour-led government in the same Parliament.

    Extremely risky strategy.

  17. GRHINPORTS – I’ve been working on the new version of that for about 8 months, and after I’d finished the seats that were unchanged, I’ve been assuming that we’re working on the old boundaries!

  18. @ Peter Cairns
    “I thought there was the option to go to the country if the government loses a vote of confidence. If Labour called for one an Tories abstained….
    Where there’s a will…
    Peter.”

    It would seem unlikely Labour would engineer an election they didn’t think they could win.

    Plus I think there would be plenty of mileage to use after all the times Cameron has guaranteed the country that his government will last the full 5 years.

    Perhaps back in the Summer of 2011 there maybe was an opportunity for Cameron to do exactly what you propose but having not gone for it then I think they would get slaughtered as opportunists if they went for it now from a much worse position in the polls.

  19. “Really on the whole issue of electoral reform I do find the attitude of the Conservative Party really bone headed. They are disadvantaged by the current FPTP system and yet they avow to retain it at all cost.”

    It’s probably because they didn’t think it through. Up to 2010, FPTP broadly worked in their favour, because the left-wing vote was split between Labour and Lib Dems, whilst the Conservatives kept the right-wing vote reasonably solidly in one party.

    Now, it’s the left-wing vote that’s solidly behind Labour, and the right-wing vote split three ways between Tories, UKIP and Lib Dems. Oops.

  20. “GRHINPORTS – I’ve been working on the new version of that for about 8 months, and after I’d finished the seats that were unchanged, I’ve been assuming that we’re working on the old boundaries!”

    @AW

    As someone who is keen to see this Boundary Review finished once and for all. I would be rather more heartened about the conviction of your statement when you deem it timely to put ink to paper so to speak in the Constituencies section.

  21. @ Peter Cairns

    The Tories have ‘no confidence’ in themselves to govern the country. I think going into an election on the back of that would be a bit tricky, don’t you?

  22. @ Chris

    “It’s probably because they didn’t think it through. Up to 2010, FPTP broadly worked in their favour, because the left-wing vote was split between Labour and Lib Dems, whilst the Conservatives kept the right-wing vote reasonably solidly in one party.”

    Im not sure that is really true about it only being a problem for the Cons since 2010. I actually think since 1997 when the Anti-Tory vote started to get its act together with tactical votes the current system has mitigated heavily against the Cons ever winning a majority again.

    The effects of 2010 have only made it that much worse.

  23. Hard to see how DC’s speech on Friday will impress UKIP or the right wing of his own party – they want out and nothing less.

    He just canNOT square this circle.

  24. I have seethed in two separate places about this, so won’t recycle the arguments any further here!

    I’m disappointed to see the zombie review finally killed off. I’m angered that the next election will be fought on electoral figures “fixed” in December 2000, and I’m not surprised to see Labour celebrating this as some kind of success against “teh evul Tories”

    AV, HoL Reform, and now this – what a great record of constitutional reform.

  25. Shame on him for welching? All the major parties do it, they are professional welchers. They routinely welch on their manifestos and pledges, and the deal required the Lib Dems screwed theirs up and chucked it in the bin to be in coalition so you can hardly be surprised if they do it again.

    Not that you can blame them. A deal doesn’t work if one of the parties works to undermine it. Someone could sell you their farm but it’s not much of a deal if you find out they latterly ploughed the soil through with salt before you took possession.

    That’s how politics seems to work, enough of the time. People going “aha!! But I didn’t say anything about a “bottom – up” reorganization of the NHS!!” No, and that’s the point. Little was said about the plans at all. Politics where they don’t say what they are actually going to do – “OK, you can have your referendum but we didn’t say we wouldn’t effectively scupper it, oh and Lords reform too!!” and this is supposed to be OK.

    Have to say that the LDs have been spectacularly bad in all this. Not only did they accept trashing their pledges, but they gave the Tories their jam upfront while being prepared to wait for their jam on electoral reform. Jam they never got because Tories already had a lot of what they wanted.

    They should never have agreed to a blanket deal on austerity – giving the Tories carte Blanche without the option to resist measures – and they should have insisted on getting more upfront and the rest more conditional. They were in a coalition, they weren’t in a merger being bought out.

    Still, LDs are still polling around ten percent so presumably some are OK with all this welching and counter-welching so there you go. ..

  26. @ Crossbath

    Very good post and sums up my feelings too.

    The only area I have a bit of a disagreement with you on is the effect of PR vs FPTP on the Lib Dems. Yes- 23% of the vote last time round to only get 57 seats does not appear fair, but how much of that was tactical voting or voting for a 3rd option which was not Lab or Con? Looking at European elections where each vote does count the Lib Dems are a lot lower at around 13%, probably a lot going to Greens instead. This is still worth more seats than they won in the GE but not by such an outrageous margin. In a PR situation they would quite possibly be looking at not being the only option in a coalition.

  27. Im not sure that is really true about it only being a problem for the Cons since 2010. I actually think since 1997 when the Anti-Tory vote started to get its act together with tactical votes the current system has mitigated heavily against the Cons ever winning a majority again.

    —-

    And without electoral reform and/or boundary change, the chances are slimmer than ever.

    By 2015 it will be 23 years since the Conservatvies won a majority at a General Election.

    Current polls suggest that it may be 2020 (28 years!) before they have another realistic chance at it.

    Some in that party really need to re-think their approach to electoral reform…

  28. @grhinports

    “Really on the whole issue of electoral reform I do find the attitude of the Conservative Party really bone headed. They are disadvantaged by the current FPTP system and yet they avow to retain it at all cost.”

    Actually, they are considerably advantaged by it. The advantage they get is less than Labour do, but not massively so. Meanwhile, their advantage over every other party is huge. Just look up the stats about how many votes it takes, on average, to get an MP for any particular party.

  29. @Shevi

    “In a PR situation they would quite possibly be looking at not being the only option in a coalition.”

    Actually, in 2010 the numbers offered the option of a Con/Lab coalition. The main barrier to such a deal would have been tribalism. There’s enough policy where the two parties are/were at least in the same ballpark that a deal would have been feasible if the option had been explored.

  30. @GreenChristian

    “Actually, they are considerably advantaged by it. The advantage they get is less than Labour do, but not massively so. Meanwhile, their advantage over every other party is huge. Just look up the stats about how many votes it takes, on average, to get an MP for any particular party.”

    I take your point….but given the Conservative party is entirely in business to form governments and stop the Left (i.e Labour) it seems entirely self defeating to not look at electoral reform with a clearer view.

  31. The likely hood of the boundary changes going ahead looks remote after the Lords vote, which is a real shame. Not because it maintains the Labour bias in voting, but because a golden opportunity to reduce the number of MP’s from 650 to 600 (still to many) has been missed.
    Clegg has proved himself once again as somebody who is not to be trusted by the electorate, a lesson that Labour should take on board if their looking around for a coalition partner in the next GE.
    I sincerely hope whoever wins the next GE wins outright or if they can’t the Liberals have had the courage to ditch the sulking schoolboy who leads them now.

  32. @ GreenChristain
    “Actually, in 2010 the numbers offered the option of a Con/Lab coalition. The main barrier to such a deal would have been tribalism. There’s enough policy where the two parties are/were at least in the same ballpark that a deal would have been feasible if the option had been explored.”

    Im sure there are LDs that secretly pray for such an “unholy alliance” since this would vault them to the exulted position of being HM’s Opposition with I suspect a fair amount of electoral benefit coming their way.

  33. Anthony

    Apart from anything else, withdrawing the Bill or using the Parliament Act will surely delay many of the other provisions to much for them to be useful. The Electoral Commission was already getting antsy about there not being enough time to get things up and rolling before April.

    The only ones of your options that would keep things going are 3 plus being humiliated and 1 plus humiliating defeat. The worst would be 1 plus victory and then waiting till next Autumn (when of course you might lose the the vote next time). Apart from anything else this would leave constituencies and MPs completely uncertain of what to do.

    Incidentally do you know what the situation is going to be on keeping the annual canvass? Last November’s report on the degradation of the register in Northern Ireland without one was fairly alarming. Of course the introduction of individual registration was pretty disastrous there anyway in terms of numbers registered – another worry if the Bill is passed, especially as I always get the impression that EONI have their act together a bit better than average.

  34. If you look at the countries which started the Neo liberal experiment you will notice that they all had Dorothy electoral systems admitted Australia has a a modified form of Dorothy but then again they were not in the forefront of the neoliberal revolution. Plus fptp has an effect where bribing the elected members seems to be easier, cos if you bribe both sides the public don’t have any options apart from wasting their vote but in a problem system there is a greater ability to chuck the bastards out.

  35. My new phone thinks that fptp should be Dorothy, don’t ask me why, perhaps because we ain’t in Kansas now

  36. As it goes, I agree with Chris Neville-Smith on LD “welching”. But what puzzles me is the apparently genuine shock from Conservatives as to what they were doing when they opposed AV and Lords’ reform. As if the LDs would accept slaps in the face on their flagship policies while meekly voting through a measure that would hand LD seats to the Tories.

    This suggests they simply don’t understand how politics works – they think ruthlessness is a one-way street

  37. Shevii

    I think you have to be careful about extrapolating from Euro results to how PR would operate in other UK elections. When voting for the EP people may switch to a different Party (say Lib Dem to Green or Conservative to UKIP) not because that in their real Party-id, but because that is who they want to support at that level. It is also a good chance for the mildly dissatisfied to give their usual Party a kicking while not actually doing anything that will affect their lives.

    The biggest discrepancy however is about turnout. Euro elections are just so much lower that it is difficult to learn much from them. Labour in particular will usually be under-represented.

  38. @Thatoldbloke – “By 2015 it will be 23 years since the Conservatvies won a majority at a General Election.”

    In fact, it will be 28 years since they won a majority large enough to last a parliament. In 1992 they gradually lost their 11 seat majority through by elections, eventually needing Unionist support. They also won 10 seats or so in Scotland that time around – no chance of that now.

  39. richard in norway

    My new phone thinks that fptp should be Dorothy, don’t ask me why…

    Does this mean we can go round referring to Conservatives as “friend of Dorothy”?

  40. I think Cameron made many strategic errors in his panic after not winning the last election (not least forming the coalition) and the fixed term parliament is one of them.

    PeterCairns paints the only scenario which could lead to a tory overall majority at the next election. But Thesheep points out the flaw!

  41. Turk

    “Clegg – sulking schoolboy”

    ….oh dearie me, what tosh.

  42. @ RiN

    …but in a problem system…
    ————–
    Your phone also seems to have a problem with a PR system too. :-)

  43. This shines a light on the scenario where the Conservatives might have tried to go it alone in 2010.

    It would never have worked – a constant struggle to do anything beyond catching the blame for everything going wrong.

  44. @Turk

    Cheer up, and enjoy the irony.

    I’m not sure what might ail you. Tories can’t be surprised that Clegg might break promises, since they obliged him to do just that in the coalition agreement

    Similarly, since they were so keen for Clegg to break promises, seems weird to complain or expect sympathy when it happens to be Tories losing out as opposed to Lib Dem voters

    Furthermore, ask the ukipers about Cameron’s promises on Europe.

    Finally, you know what Oscar Wilde said about “when the gods wish to punish us…” etc. ?

    Cos I’ve heard it said that if they had gotten rid of even more MPs it would start to favour Labour. If that is the case (maybe someone can clarify? ), now that Cameron’s let this genie out the bottle, how would you feel if Labour got in and chopped a hundred seats, maybe more, thus making it even harder for Tories to get elected?

    To be fair, libdem voters probably have more reason to feel hard done by. It must feel like deja vu ‘cos they went through all this in the seventies, only that time around it was Labour who gave them the run around on electoral reform…

  45. RiN

    I’m disappointed.

    I had thought “Dorothy” for FPTP was a clever analogy with Dorothy McMillan, whose predilection for being screwed by an unprincipled Tory was legendary.

  46. @ Old Nat

    Did you mean Tories; or was only one of them “unprincipled”?

  47. Amber

    I was thinking of my former MP – very caring towards gangsters was Boothby!

  48. Roger

    I thought about that joke as well but I wasn’t sure how many would understand it.

    Old Nat

    Didn’t understand your joke, my fault for being uneducated

    Amber

    I missed that mistake, it’s really getting annoying the typos and predictive fails on this phone, I miss my old one(it’s dead) shame no does phones with physical keyboards anymore but I’ll just have to get used to it.

  49. Just a question but before 1997 how many yeas was it since the last time labour had won a majority, more than 30 I think

  50. Yep Richard, Wilson in’66. Before the left were split…

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