A quick note on the Individual Electoral Registration vote tonight and what it means, since I fear it will be badly reported elsewhere. As readers may know, electoral registration has now moved over from household registration (where one member of the household filled in a form to register everyone) to individual registration (there is still a household form to sign off for no change, but new registrations need to be done individually). Making it a little harder to register has created a lot of concern about whether it will lead to falling registration, particularly in residential communities like student halls of residence, where in the past the university authority could have registered everyone en masse.

That, however, is for another time. Tonight’s vote isn’t about the principle of individual registration and will make no difference to whether it happens or not. It is on one narrow, but important, part of the transition from household registration to individual registration.

The normal process of electoral registration is – crudely speaking – that once a year there is a canvas of every household, asking people if their details on the electoral register are correct. Local councils will remove entries that are no longer accurate and add on new people. People who don’t reply at all will be badgered with extra letters and knocks on the door, but eventually some people won’t reply. Those people are left on the register for a year, and then if they don’t reply to two canvasses in a row, deleted from the register. People get one year’s grace without being removed.

During the transition process that was different. The annual canvas in 2014 was cancelled for the transition process – people on the old register were matched against government databases, like benefits records, and those who matched were automatically moved across to the new system. Only people who couldn’t be automatically moved across were contacted and required to register on the new system. There was no cleaning of the register though, even if they couldn’t be automatically moved and across and didn’t respond to contacts, people on the old register were kept on the new Dec 2014 register to make sure they didn’t miss out on the general election.

For 2015 the annual canvas was started again, so every household got a letter asking people to confirm their existing details on the register. People who reply were updated (though new people now need to fill in an individual registration) and people who didn’t reply at all were chased. The question to be decided tonight is what to do with people who didn’t reply (or more specifically, people who don’t reply this year and weren’t verified or registered last year either – the year’s grace remains either way).

The legislation setting up individual registration said that people who don’t reply in 2015 should NOT be removed in 2015, but also specifically gave the government the power to change this by statutory instrument and recommence cleaning in 2015 if they preferred. The Electoral Commission recommended the government did not do this, and gave people the extra year’s grace. This is what tonight’s vote is on – are people who weren’t transitioned or re-registered on the new system in 2014 AND did not reply to this year’s electoral canvas left on the register or not?

In May 2015 there were 1.9m people still on the register who hadn’t been registered under the new system. Of course, all of these entries will not be removed, as there has been a full canvas since then and many of them will have replied to this year’s canvas and now be on the new system. It is still likely to be a substantial number. The change only affects people who replied to the electoral canvas at an address in 2013, but have not subsequently replied to electoral registration officers at that address since then, when during that time efforts will have been made to contact them several times for the transition to individual voting and in this year’s annual canvass. They will probably have had to ignore about nine letters reminding them to register. They also need to not be in receipt of benefits at that address and not on other government databases used for data matching, or they would have been automatically registered. In short, a lot of those people probably couldn’t be matched because they don’t live at that address any more, and may or may not be living or registered somewhere else. Finally, it’s worth remembering that people who are left off this December’s register can register to vote up until a couple of weeks before the local/mayoral/police/Scottish/Welsh elections next year.

In terms of the impact on individual voters, I fear there is some hyperbole going on. However, the impact of the vote isn’t just on individual voters, it’s important for another reason – arguably more so. The registers published on the 1st December this year are the ones that will be used for the new boundary review, and the removal of these rolled over names will make a difference. In the twenty council areas with the highest number of people held over from the 2013 register, about 11% of people on the register in May 2015 were held over, in the twenty council areas with the lowest number of people rolled over about 1% of people on the register in May 2015 were held over. The places with lots of held over entries are mostly (but not exclusively) Labour held areas, the places with few held over entries are mostly (but not exclusively) Conservative held areas. Again, remember many of these people will probably have been picked up in this year’s canvas, so it doesn’t mean 11% and 1% will be removed – the numbers will be lower than that – but it does mean the number of people on the registers will drop more in Labour areas than in Conservative areas.

Cleaning people who have not responded to the canvas off the register will decrease the registered electorate in inner-city Labour areas and make the boundary review better for the Conservatives. Leaving them on will make the boundary review better for Labour. We don’t know what proportion of the rolled over entries on the register relate to real people still living at those addresses and what proportion are “dead entries” related to people who no longer live at that address. The Conservatives can argue that leaving inaccurate entries on the register would skew the review by bumping up the electorate in areas with inaccurate registers full of outdated entries, Labour can argue that harshly pruning the register would skew the review by under-representing the electorate in areas of social-deprivation with populations who are less likely to register to vote. I suspect neither are entirely free from self-interest, but one way or the other it has to be decided: Parliament has until Monday to annul the statutory instrument or it remains law.

The election of a majority Conservative government means that the Parliamentary boundary review will presumably go ahead on the rules passed under the last government, but delayed by the Liberal Democrats (the review that was started in the last Parliament was abandoned before it was completed after the law was changed). There is no need for the government to pass any laws to implement this, it will start up automatically early next year once electorate numbers are available, though Parliament will still have to vote to implement the Boundary Commissions’ recommendations, and with a small majority that is not necessarily a given – last time round there were a couple of Tory MPs who said they were going to vote against the new boundaries, and the government doesn’t have much of a majority to begin with.

Anyway, a couple of people have asked me how this election would have looked had the revised boundaries proposed in the last Parliament gone through. I’ve done a rough rejig of my provisional boundary calculations using the result of this election, and had the new boundaries gone through the Conservatives would have won 322 seats, nine fewer than they did but enough to give them a healthy majority of 44 in a Commons of 600 MPs. Labour would have won 204 MPs (28 fewer), the SNP 50 seats (and would have pushed Labour out of Scotland entirely) and the Lib Dems just 4.

Of course, this is not necessarily a good guide to what the new review this Parliament will produce – electorate numbers will have changed since 2010 and given some of the discussion after the abandoned review I suspect the English Commission may be a little more open to splitting wards so the proposed changes are less disruptive (something that requires only a change of mindset, not a change of rules!), but we shall see.


Tonight’s YouGov/Sun poll has topline figures of CON 35%, LAB 38%, LDEM 8%, UKIP 11%. The three point Labour lead is typical of this week’s YouGov polls, which have all shown 3-4 point leads.

A couple more things to flag up, earlier in the week YouGov repeated their question asking people to put the parties and their leaders on a left-right spectrum. There isn’t much change since it was last asked. Labour are still seen as more centrist than the Conservatives, Cameron a little more right-wing than Miliband is left-wing. Cameron is seen as marginally to the left of his party, Miliband bang in line with his. In that sense Ed Miliband isn’t seen as some wild left winger (certainly not compared to the right-wingness of the Tories), but note that he is seen as far more left-wing than his predecessors: Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were both seen as significantly more centrist than the party they led. There are some very nice graphs of the data here.

While it’s not really about polls regular readers will know my sideline in boundary changes. While the boundary review for the coming election was cancelled the changes the government made weren’t repealed, just delayed. The process will start again automatically in 2015, so the issue will inevitably raise its head after the next election with either the Boundary Commissions starting a new review under the new rules, or the government legislating to change the rules again. Johnston, Rossiter & Pattie – the foremost scholars of British boundary redistributions – have published a new paper aimed at informing that debate, looking at whether slightly increasing the tolerance from 5% to 8%, encouraging the Boundary Commissions to split more wards, or sticking with 650 seats would reduce the level of disruption (spoilers: the first two would, the latter wouldn’t). It’s summarised here, and the full report is here.

Boundary Update

I expect this will be the last one of these for a few years, as the Commons looks likely to vote to approve the Lords amendment abandoning the current boundary review and setting the next boundary review to begin in 2015, reporting in September-October 2018. Today should see an end to matters one way or the other – looking in detail at the amendments before the House today, the government has tabled a counter amendment that would reject the Lords amendment, and adopt the Boundary Commissions final recommendations without the need for further votes in the Commons and Lords.

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.