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.

Boundaries update

The final section of the revised boundary recommendations, those from Wales, are now out. Most of the changes from the interim recommendations are shuffling about of a ward here or there – the biggest changes are around Cardiff and the valleys: the rather odd Heads of the Valleys seat has been abandoned and the salamandery Newport West and Sirhowy Valley has gone. Meanwhile a recognisable Cardiff Central has been resurrected. The return of Cardiff Central means the revised boundaries have one more Lib Dem seat and one less Labour seat. The changes now go out for a new round of consultation, after which the Commissions may make some final changes (from past reviews, these are quite rare and often minor tweaks or name changes) or confirm these as their final recommendations.

Adding all the revised boundaries together gives us notional totals for what the seats at the 2010 election would have been if counted on the new boundaries of CON 302 (down 4), LAB 222 (down 36), LDEM 51 (down 6), Others 25 (down 4). As ever, it is important to remember that there are (a) notional results for the last election, not what would happen now and (b) what seats would have been won if people’s votes had been counted on the new boundaries, NOT if they had voted on the new boundaries. Some people would have actually voted differently had the new boundaries been in force, particularly wards moving into Lib Dem marginals. For this reason I suspect notional calculations underestimate how well the Liberal Democrats would actually have done on these boundaries.

On current boundaries the Conservatives need a lead of 11.1% to win an overall majority on a uniform swing. They need a lead of 4.1% to be the largest party. Labour need a lead of 2.9% to get an overall majority. If the two main parties had equal shares of the vote Labour would have 53 seats more than the Conservatives.

On the revised boundaries the Conservatives need a lead of 7% to win an overall majority, they would need a lead of 1.4% to be the biggest party. Labour would need a lead of 4.7% to win an overall majority. If the two main parties had equal shares of the vote Labour would have 16 seats more than the Conservatives.

Note that all these targets are on a uniform swing between Conservative and Labour, they aren’t the same under all circumstances. Most notably, if Liberal Democrat support falls the sort of leads the parties need to get an overall majority get smaller. Given that the Liberal Democrats aren’t very likely to get 24% at the next election based on current polling, I’ve also given some illustrations on what the picture would be if the Lib Dems were on 12%.

On current boundaries, if the Lib Dems fell to 12% then the Conservatives would need a lead of 5.9% to get an overall majority, the Conservatives would need a lead of 3% to be the biggest party, Labour would need a lead of 0.4% for an overall majority. If the two main parties had equal shares of the vote Labour would have 41 seats more than the Conservatives.

On the revised boundaries, if the Lib Dems fell to 12% the Conservatives would need a lead of 2.7% to get an overall majority. Labour would need a lead 0.4% to be the biggest party and a lead of 3.8% to get an overall majority. If the two main parties had equal shares of the vote the Conservatives would have 3 seats more than Labour.

Of course, to some extent this all academic as currently the boundaries look unlikely to go through, with the Liberal Democrats repeatedly stating they will not do a deal on the boundaries. However, there was slight movement on another front yesterday. It is broadly assumed that the Conservatives could strike a deal with the DUP to support the changes, as well as the SNP, who do very well out of the boundary changes themselves (they are the only party who wouldn’t lose any seats at all). However, this would be not be enough to get them through. Yesterday, however, Plaid Cymru said they were also open to a deal to support the boundary changes in exchange for greater devolution to Wales.

On paper the Conservatives, SNP, DUP and Plaid together have a de facto majority in the Commons and could push through changes. In practice it still looks dubious, even if some deal could be struck (which is far from certain!), as it would require no Conservative abstentions or rebellions, and at least one Conservative MP has publically said he’ll vote against it. My expectation is still that the boundary changes will not happen.

Full notional figures for the revised boundaries for England, Wales and Scotland are now available as a google spreadsheet here (note that I have not done separate notional figures for UKIP in Scotland or the BNP in Wales, they are lumped in with Others).