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.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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