Rick Perry's fate sealed by an "Oops"

To think that all those millions of dollars raised should come to this: a man who looks too stupid t

Never say politics isn't full of surprises. Last night's Republican debate in Michigan appears to have witnessed the end of one candidate's presidential campaign, but it wasn't Herman Cain who was brought down by the sheer weight of those sexual harassment allegations -- but Rick Perry, who fell victim to the most embarrassing kind of political amnesia.

The Texas Governor may be highly regarded in his home state, but on the national stage he's often come across as something of a joke, with poor performances in previous debates adding to a somewhat lacklustre campaign. Last night though, his fate was potentially sealed by a single word: "Oops".

The actual flub is almost too painful to watch. It was a kind of brain meltdown, as Perry struggled to list the three Government agencies that he would axe. After Commerce and Education, he just couldn't blurt out the third.

As the audience broke into guffaws Perry blundered on, but for the pundits, it was all over. Presidential scholar Larry Sabato called it "the most devastating moment of any modern primary debate". Ouch. Politico quotes an email from one high-level supporter simply stating "I'm sad. Stuck a fork in himself. Can't decide which is worse, Dean scream or Perry oops." On a more serious note, leading GOP senator Jim DeMint admitted "It is a problem. We need to stay on message."

Perry himself insisted his campaign was right on track -- and he's even been trying to make some political capital out of the gaffe, with a new fundraising letter to supporters. We all have human moments, it says, "and tonight Rick Perry forgot the third agency he wants to eliminate. Just goes to show there are too damn many federal agencies."

The candidate himself appeared in the spin room immediately after the debate with that same bluff-straight-through it approach. "I stepped in it out there", he told reporters. "I may have forgotten Energy, but I haven't forgotten my conservative principles."

But any candidate worth a dime wouldn't have had to show up in the spin room in person: it's not exactly front runner behaviour. To think that all those millions of dollars raised, all those endless trips to the furthest flung regions of Iowa and New Hampshire, should come to this: a man who now looks too stupid to win the Republican nomination.

There's just eight weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses -- not long to rebuild an image, not long to urge big-time donors to stay on board. Even in a contest which has been anything but predictable, it's not looking good for Perry. Take an email from one backer, who tries to list three reasons why he still supports him: "He really is, ah... I'll get back to you on the third". "Oops" Apocalypse, as you might say.

Felicity Spector is a senior producer at Channel 4 News.

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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.