Opposition grows to Cameron's boundary changes

A significant number of Tory and Lib Dem MPs are prepared to vote against the coalition's boundary c

In two weeks' time, the Boundary Commission will publish its first draft of the new constituency boundaries, a seemingly mundane act that could trigger one of the biggest rebellions of this parliament. The Tories' decision to couple the boundary changes with a reduction in the number of MPs from 650 to 600 has created a class of legislators with a vested interest in blocking the reforms. Hundreds of others, who will see their majorities fall, are similarly troubled by the changes.

It's therefore unsurprising to see today's FT report that the proposals could collapse when they are voted on in 2013. Labour, which has consistently denounced the reforms as gerrymandering, will vote en masse against them, as will a significant number of Lib Dems, many of whom no longer feel obliged to support the reforms after David Cameron betrayed his promise to play only a limited role in the No to AV campaign. Lib Dem MP Andrew George said: "Will we object? I think that some of us will when it comes to it."

Almost everyone can find something to dislike about the boundary changes. The plan to equalise constituency sizes will disrupt traditional boundaries and historic communities without correcting the electoral bias towards Labour (which is not due to unequal constituencies), and the redrawn boundaries will take no account of the 3.5 million people not on the electoral register, producing a skewed electoral map that ignores millions of eligible voters. Meanwhile, the accompanying 8 per cent reduction in the number of MPs will not be matched by a commensurate reduction in the number of ministers, further reducing parliamentary accountability and swelling the payroll vote.

Cameron will continue to proclaim that the reforms will benefit both his party and democracy but asserting something does not make it true. One suspects that an increasing number of his own MPs will conclude as much.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Emmanuel Macron's French election victory may change less than most expect

The centrist is not the first to succeed from outside the traditional parties in the Fifth Republic.

Emmanuel Macron has won the first round of the French presidential election, and will face Marine Le Pen in the run-off.

The numbers that matter: Emmanuel Macron 24 per cent, Le Pen 21 per cent, François Fillon 19.9 per cent, Jean Luc Mélenchon 19.9 per cent and Benoît Hamon 6.3 per cent.

According to the polls - which came within 0.9 per cent of the correct result in the first round - Macron will easily defeat Marine Le Pen in the second round.

The single transferable take that compares Macron to Hillary Clinton and Le Pen to Trump ignores a few things. Not least his programme, the different electoral system and the fact that Macron is popular - the most popular politician in France, in fact. Jean Luc Mélenchon declined to back a candidate in the second round and will poll his supporters on who his leftist bloc should back. But it's not comparable to the feud between Bernie Sanders and Clinton - which, in any case, was overwritten. Most Sanders supporters backed Clinton in November. The big story of that election was that the American mainstream right backed Donald Trump despite his manifold faults.

The French mainstream right is a very different beast. Fillon has already thrown his weight behind Macron, warning against the "violence" and "intolerance" of the National Front and the "economic chaos" its programme would inflict. And to the extent that it matters, Hamon has also endorsed his former party colleague, saying that there is a difference between a "political adversary and an enemy of the Republic."

So, if he wins, has everything changed, changed utterly? That's the line in most of the papers this morning, but I'm not so sure. French politics has always been more fissiparous than elsewhere, with parties conjured up to facilitate runs for the Presidency, such as the Democratic Movement of perennial candidate, now Macron backer François Bayrou, and Mélenchon's own Left Party.

I'm dubious, too, about the idea that Macron is the first to succeed from outside the traditional centre-right and centre-left blocs in the history of the Fifth Republic. That honour surely goes to Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, a popular finance minister in a Gaullist administration, who ran on a independent centrist platform in 1974 - and won the presidency.

Giscard d'Estaing had no majority in the National Assembly and had to "cohabit" with his former colleagues on the Gaullist right. In the long run, far from upending the left-right pattern of French politics, he continued it. (Indeed, d'Estaing is now a member of the centre-right Republican Party.)

You don't have to look hard to see the parallels with Macron, a popular finance minister in a Socialist administration, running on an independent centrist platform and very likely to win, too.

France's underreported and under-polled legislative elections in June will give us an idea of the scale of the change and how lasting it may be. If, freed from the taint of Fillon's scandals, the French Republicans can win the legislative elections then talk of the "death of the traditional centre-right" is going to look very silly indeed.

Equally, while Hamon won the presidential nomination, the Socialist Party's legislative candidates are largely drawn from the party's right. If En Marche!, Macron's new party, can go from no seats at all to the largest group but are short of a majority their natural allies in getting through Macron's programme will be from the remains of the Socialists. Far from irrevocably changing the pattern of French politics, Macron's remarkable success may simply mark a period of transition in the life of the French Left.

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

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