Without the boundary changes, a Tory majority is impossible

Cameron's party would need a lead of 11 points to win without the changes.

There is no guarantee that the Lib Dems will vote down the planned boundary changes in retaliation for the abandonment of House of Lords reform. Contrary to what some claim, no link was made between the policies in the coalition agreement (the AV referendum was the quid pro quo for the boundary changes) and Nick Clegg has previously told MPs that "there can be no justification for maintaining the current inequality between constituencies and voters across the country." This is a powerful position from which to argue that the Lib Dems should not renege on the agreement.

If, however, Clegg vetoes the bill, the final version of which is not due to reach parliament until 2013, who benefits? The most obvious answer is Labour. Without the boundary changes, Miliband's party only needs a lead of three points (on a uniform swing) to win a majority, compared with one of four points under the new constituencies. Conversely, the Tories, who would need a lead of seven points with the changes, would need a lead of 11 points without them.

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 plans to fix constituency sizes at around 76,000 voters).

As I've argued before, even if the boundary changes are implemented, the odds are against a Tory majority in 2015. 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. But if the boundary changes are abandoned, it is no exaggeration to say that a Tory majority, difficult to achieve at present, becomes impossible. For this reason, it is no surprise that Cameron is determined to push ahead with the bill.

David Cameron waits to greet Russian President Vladimir Putin outside 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.