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.

Getty
Show Hide image

How Labour risks becoming a party without a country

Without establishing the role of Labour in modern Britain, the party is unlikely ever to govern again.

“In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn

All I want for you to do is take my body home”

- Blind Willie Johnson

The Conservative Party is preparing itself for a bloody civil war. Conservative MPs will tell anyone who wants to know (Labour MPs and journalists included) that there are 100 Conservative MPs sitting on letters calling for a leadership contest. When? Whenever they want to. This impending war has many reasons: ancient feuds, bad blood, personal spite and enmity, thwarted ambition, and of course, the European Union.

Fundamentally, at the heart of the Tory war over the European Union is the vexed question of ‘What is Britain’s place in the World?’ That this question remains unanswered a quarter of a century after it first decimated the Conservative Party is not a sign that the Party is incapable of answering the question, but that it has no settled view on what the correct answer should be.

The war persists because the truth is that there is no compromise solution. The two competing answers are binary opposites: internationalist or insular nationalist, co-habitation is an impossibility.

The Tories, in any event, are prepared to keep on asking this question, seemingly to the point of destruction. For the most part, Labour has answered this question: Britain will succeed as an outward looking, internationalist state. The equally important question facing the Labour Party is ‘What is the place of the Labour Party in modern Britain?’ Without answering this question, Labour is unlikely to govern ever again and in contrast to the Tories, Labour has so far refused to acknowledge that such a question is being asked of it by the people it was founded to serve. At its heart, this is a question about England and the rapidly changing nature of the United Kingdom.

In the wake of the 2016 elections, the approach that Labour needs to take with regard to the ‘English question’ is more important than ever before. With Scotland out of reach for at least a generation (assuming it remains within the United Kingdom) and with Labour’s share of the vote falling back in Wales in the face of strong challenges from Plaid Cymru and UKIP, Labour will need to rely upon winning vast swathes of England if we are to form a government in 2020.

In a new book published this week, Labour’s Identity Crisis, Tristram Hunt has brought together Labour MPs, activists and parliamentary candidates from the 2015 general election to explore the challenges facing Labour in England and how the party should address these, not purely as an electoral device, but as a matter of principle.

My contribution to the book was inspired by Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. The track list reads like the score for a musical tragedy based upon the Labour Party from 2010 onwards: In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Ten Years Gone. 

Continued Labour introspection is increasingly tiresome for the political commentariat – even boring – and Labour’s Identity Crisis is a genuinely exciting attempt to swinge through this inertia. As well as exploring our most recent failure, the book attempts to chart the course towards the next Labour victory: political cartography at its most urgent.

This collection of essays represents an overdue effort to answer the question that the Party has sought to sidestep for too long.  In the run up to 2020, as the United Kingdom continues to atomise, the Labour Party must have an ambitious, compelling vision for England, or else risks becoming a party without a country.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.