Monday, October 15, 2012

Over the boundary

According to the Financial Times, senior Tories are plotting to buy Liberal Democrat support for their gerrymandering of the constituency boundaries with a blunt offer of cash for votes when the proposals return to parliament in autumn 2013. Grant Shapps specifically denied that he was in negotiations with the Liberal Democrats on yesterday's Sunday Politics, but that doesn't preclude somebody else plotting.

Now, although I will believe much of the Liberal Democrats, I don't think that they can formally shift their position on this. There doesn't seem to be a narrative that could provide a credible cover for a policy change. There's also a practical aspect for them, that if the review goes through, many of their sitting MPs will find re-election massively challenging. As we all know, they are like limpets once they are elected and typically focus on building up a personal constituency vote to shield them against electoral shifts. However, this only works in areas where they have incumbency and with new boundaries bringing in new areas, spreading the LibDem gospel will be even more challenging. So, for those reasons, I think a formal shift in policy is unlikely and I also think it is unlikely that the measures will pass next autumn.

However....

Look at the numbers.

There are currently 650 MPs in the House, but of those, the five Sinn Fein seats remain unoccupied. Add in the four members of the Speaker's team and that reduces your number required for a majority to 321. The Tories can be expected to have 304 MPs by the time the vote rolls around next autumn (assuming that Corby goes to Labour in November 2012, as expected), so the gap that needs to be closed is less than twenty. This does assume that all Tory MPs will vote for the changes - even those, like Nadine Dorries, who would see their seats abolished. Is it beyond belief that some of the nationalist parties could be persuaded to come on board and perhaps even a handful of 'rebellious' Lib Dems to bolster the numbers?

I don't think that Clegg will further erode any credibility that his party might have by deciding to support the change in policy, but I don't think that it is beyond the bounds of possibility that some deal may be done whereby certain MPs 'decide' to support the government or even abstain in return for financial support for the Lib Dem party.

Of course, the way to kill the idea now is to stop the work of the Boundary Commission. Hasn't happened yet, has it?


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