Clegg has killed the Tories' hopes of a majority

The loss of the boundary changes is disastrous for Cameron.

A mournful Nick Clegg has just confirmed that the coalition will not proceed with House of Lords reform after David Cameron failed to persuade enough Tory MPs to renege on their opposition to the bill. "Part of our contract has now been broken," he lamented. Clegg went on to announce that the Lib Dems would retaliate by voting against the boundary changes, which would gift the Tories an extra 20 seats, when they reach Parliament. Without the support of Clegg's MPs, who, after all, account for 100 per cent of the government's majority, the reforms are effectively dead.

The key political consequence of this is that it will now be even harder for the Conservatives to win a majority in 2015. As I've noted before, with the boundary changes, the Tories would have needed a lead of seven points (on a uniform swing) to win a majority. Without them, they need a lead of 11 points. Conversely, Labour, which would have required a lead of four points with the boundary changes, now needs a lead of just three.

The reason Labour retain their electoral advantage is that the electoral bias towards the party owes more to differential turnout (fewer people tend to vote in Labour constituencies) and regional factors (the Tory vote is poorly distributed) than it does to unequal constituencies (the coalition planned to fix constituency sizes at around 76,000 voters).

Even with the boundary changes, a Tory majority in 2015 was looking unlikely. No sitting prime minister has increased their party's share of the vote since 1974, and Cameron is failing to make progress among those groups that refused to support him last time round. Now, with the loss of the reforms, the challenge of building a Tory majority has moved from "difficult" to "impossible".

Ironically, after the opprobrium heaped on him by Labour, it is Clegg, in blocking the boundary changes, who has done Miliband's party the greatest possible service.

Nick Clegg said the Conservatives had broken the coalition agreement by refusing to support House of Lords reform. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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