Gordon Brown’s hot date

Why Brown decided to go for a May election.

The election will be on 6 May, but your correspondent has discovered that the Prime Minister briefly considered other spring dates. Gordon Brown instructed Ray Collins, Labour's general secretary, to send contingency proposals for a contest in March or April to Downing Street. But Broon decided to stick with May when Collins replied that the cash-strapped party had no plan B, let alone a plan C or D. So 6 May it is, by default as well as calculation.

Philip Hammond MP, "Boy George" Osborne's ambitious deputy, must be worth a few bob. A cameraman halted an interview outside Sky's landlocked Osterley HQ after the guest -- me, since you ask -- was drowned out by what sounded like a motorboat. The vessel turned out to be Hammond's enormous Jaguar, a gas-guzzling beast that looked big enough to fit "Two Jags" Prescott in the boot. The Tory era of "Vote blue, go green" is over. Nor is the "Age of Austerity" likely to worry a property developer who moonlights as the shadow bean-counter and would scythe public services.

Campaigning in Doc Martens rather than behind the wheel, meanwhile, will be Hilary Benn. The cabinet minister, a member of the nearest thing Westminster has to a dynasty, has bought only that brand of shoes, originally designed for factory workers, for two decades. His father, Tony, was painted in Doc Martens for a portrait that now hangs in the House of Commons. Persuading him to buy them, sniffs Benn Jr, is the sole political influence he has had on his illustrious forebear.

No sign of Tory wobbles as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson enjoyed what a snout described as a "very jolly" lunch at a pizza joint near City Hall. Is Gove hedging his bets by selling Cameroons and buying BoJos?

You meet the most unlikely sorts in the Strangers' Bar. Howard Crosby, nephew of Bing, popped in for a swifty recently. Burly Brian Binley, Northampton's Tory bruiser, took the amateur crooner-cum-businessman to dinner. Crosby Jr sang for his supper, warbling a few of his uncle's hits, including "White Christmas" and "Pennies from Heaven". Binley likes the sound of his own voice but was persuaded to listen rather than join in, a fellow Tory comparing his vocal style to a backfiring motorbike.

Some MPs find it hard to step aside when retiring. Which may explain why James Purnell is telephone-lobbying Labour members to back his favoured Stalybridge and Hyde candidate. Calling, that is, from India.

Andy "I Knew Nothing" Coulson gets in a tizz most evenings after ringing the Sun (presumably on an unbugged phone) for a sneak preview of the Wapping rag's YouGov daily poll. A Tory mole whispered that the spinner dreads informing Cameron and Osborne of dips and leads that are still stuck in single figures. The Bullingdon Boys have started, I hear, to take it out on the messenger.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

This article appears in this week's special double issue of the New Statesman.

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Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 05 April 2010 issue of the New Statesman, GOD

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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.