The great gerrymander: Mehdi Hasan on the Tories' attempt to undermine the system

Tories continue to find new and ingenious ways to rig the electoral system in their favour.

My column in this week's magazine attacks the Tories' "brazen attempt to gerrymander the electoral system" through rewriting the rules on voter registration and switching from compulsion to volition -- which could see up to ten million mostly Labour-leaning voters just fall off the electoral register. Almost all of our major political commentators and pundits have missed this story, preferring instead to focus on the Boundary Commission's recent review of constituency boundaries.

Those of us who have objected to the review, on the grounds that it is quite possible to remove the electoral system's existing bias towards Labour without reducing the overall number of Commons seats, have been accused of being partisan, cynical and prone to conspiracy-theorising. Yet, earlier this week, at a ConservativeHome reception at the Conservative party conference in Manchester, the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, had this to say:

With your help -- and a little help from the boundary review -- hopefully we will be back in 2015 with a Conservative majority government.

[Hat-tip: Total Politics and Amber Elliott]

From the horse's mouth, as they say. His aides, of course, say that he made the remarks in "jest" but the point is that they're true. The boundary review will disproportionately benefit the Conservatives -- and so, too, will the proposed change to the registration of voters on the electoral list and the subsequent lack of enforcement. It is, as I say in my column, "the biggest political scandal you've never heard of".

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.