The Tory plan for a permanent majority gathers pace

Boundary changes, Scottish independence and party funding reform could prevent Labour ever winning a

Labour strategists have long warned of a nightmare scenario in which the party would likely never govern again. First, the coalition's proposed boundary changes are approved, depriving Labour of an estimated 25 seats (the Conservatives would have won 13 fewer seats at the last election and the Lib Dems would have won seven fewer).

Second, Alex Salmond holds a referendum on independence and Scotland votes Yes. Of the 59 Westminster seats in Scotland that automatically would be lost, 41 are Labour-held but just one is Conservative-held. Finally, the Tories and the Lib Dems introduce a cap on party donations, depriving Labour of much of its trade-union funding and bankrupting the party.

Labour is consigned to permanent opposition and a new age of Tory hegemony is born.

So far this strategy, masterminded by George Osborne, is proceeding remarkably well (Osborne doesn't support Scottish independence but he will have done the parliamentary arithmetic). The new constituency boundaries are likely to be approved by 2013 and the Alternative Vote, which would have made the formation of a "progressive alliance" more likely, has been rejected by an overwhelming majority.

Meanwhile, an independent Scotland is more likely now than at any other point in the 304-year history of the Union. There is no doubt that David Cameron is being sincere when he vows to defend the United Kingdom with "every fibre in my body", but not everyone in his party takes the same view. A 2009 ConservativeHome poll of 144 party candidates found that 46 per cent would not be "uncomfortable about Scotland becoming independent".

Never assume

To many Tories, an independent England – economically liberal, fiscally conservative, Eurosceptic, Atlanticist – is an attractive prospect. The Conservatives have not held more than one seat in Scotland for the past 19 years – there is little political incentive to preserve the Union.

As Michael Portillo told Andrew Neil on This Week in 2006: "From the point of political advantage, the Conservatives have a better chance of being in government if Scotland is not part of the affair. You are continuing to assume the Union is sacrosanct. That is not an assumption I make any more."

The third plank of this strategy – party funding reform – is about to return to the agenda. As today's Observer reports, the Tories and the Lib Dems are advancing plans to impose a cap of £50,000 on political donations. The paper notes:

An analysis of funding conducted since David Cameron became Tory leader shows Labour would have been deprived of 85 per cent of its income since 2005 if the limit had been in place. This is because the vast majority of its funds have come from hefty union donations well above the £50,000 level.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, would have forfeited just 50 per cent of their income, as the party receives a higher proportion of its income from wealthy individuals who tend to give sums below the proposed £50,000 cap.

As I've pointed out before, Labour is now remarkably dependent on the unions for its funding. Back in 1994, when Tony Blair became Labour leader, trade unions accounted for just a third of the party's annual income. They now account for more than 60 per cent.

In the last quarter, private donations accounted for just £59,503 (2 per cent) of Labour's £2,777,519 income. Just two individuals donated to the party, one of whom was Alastair Campbell. By contrast, union donations accounted for 90 per cent of all funding.

I'm a strong supporter of the trade-union link, but it's unhealthy for a progressive political party to be so dependent on a few sources of income. Labour must broaden its funding base as a matter of urgency.

But the wider challenge is clear. If history is not to record Gordon Brown as the last Labour prime minister, the party must show as much ruthlessness, cunning and ingenuity as the Tories.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Labour's tuition fees row could only be the start of a difficult summer

New appointees at CCHQ and Downing Street are keen to show that the Tories are back in business.

What is the row over Labour's tuition fee pledge really about, and does it matter? The party is under attack from its political opponents and parts of the press for Jeremy Corbyn's pre-election NME interview in which he said he'd “deal with” the issue of tuition fee debt.

The story has been given a fresh lease of life because Guido has got hold of a recording of a shadow minister, Imran Hussain, saying Labour would wipe out all student debt. The Evening Standard has splashed on it: “Corbyn caught out on students” is the headline.

Among the commentariat, certainty that a) Corbyn pledged to eradicate all fee debt and b) this was electorally significant seems to run in exact proportion with people who didn't think the Labour leader was surging before the election.

YouGov, who you'll recall did pick up on what was going on have found that just 17 per cent of 18-24s believed Corbyn's statement meant he'd wipe out all fee debt. More significantly, just 14 per cent of 25-41s, the cohort actually making tuition fee repayments right now, thought they were in line for a debt write-off. There is no partisan divide – Tory voters were actually slightly more likely than Labour ones to believe there was a write-off in the offing.

So does it matter? That much of the political class either pay tuition fees, would have paid tuition fees, or have children who will pay tuition fees is one reason why the issue receives outsized attention, and that matters.

As far as the politics goes: it's worth remembering that for all “tuition fees” became emblematic of the perceived failures of the Liberal Democrats in coalition, that party's ratings began to steadily decline pretty much the moment that Nick Clegg turned up in the Rose Garden with David Cameron. Other than among current students and their parents, the issue isn't a live one, even among fee-paying graduates. (Frankly, were I Labour, I'd rather my fees policy was on the front page of a London newspaper than I would my Brexit policy.)

There is a political reason why it matters. Today's newspapers are pretty thin and the next month looks like going the same way. (That the other big political story is Theresa May's £26 dress gives you an idea of the scale of the news drought.)

News is a lot like an ideal gas: it expands to fill the space available. That from the top of the party to the outer reaches of the frontbench, Labour expected to be involved in another leadership contest this summer means that not a great deal of thought has been put into what, exactly, they are going to fill the summer with. No one at the top of Labour has had a proper summer break since 2014.

On the other side, the new appointees at CCHQ and Downing Street are keen to show that the party is back in business. The opposition should brace themselves for a summer of difficult front pages.

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.