Why the boundary changes won't devastate Labour

Labour will still win more seats than the Tories on an equal share of the vote.

David Cameron and Alex Salmond's duel over Scottish independence has overshadowed another issue of constitutional significance: the coalition's boundary changes. The publication of the Boundary Commission for Wales's proposals means we now have recommendations from all four UK commissions, allowing us to calculate the likely effect on each party.

It's often said that the boundary changes will lead to the longest period of Conservative government since Thatcher but the reality is more complex. The key point is that even after the boundary changes Labour will still win more seats than the Tories on an equivalent share of the vote. This is because the electoral bias towards Labour 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 a recent report by the University of Plymouth concluded:

The geography of each party's support base is much more important, so changes in the redistribution procedure are unlikely to have a substantial impact and remove the significant disadvantage currently suffered by the Conservative Party.

(Although the Tories, wedded as they are to first-past-the-post, can hardly complain.)

Thus, as YouGov's Anthony Wells shows, while the Tories need a lead of 7.4 per cent to win a majority under the new boundaries, Labour needs a lead of just 4.3 per cent. In addition, should the Tory lead fall below 2.2 per cent, Labour will emerge as the largest single party in a hung parliament.

There will now be a lengthy consultation on the boundary changes until October 2013 when the commission makes its final recommendations to parliament.

Below are the key figures in full.

Labour majority

To win a majority, Labour needs a lead of 4.3 per cent, compared to 3 per cent under the old boundaries.

Labour largest single party

To win the most seats in a hung parliament, Labour requires a Conservative lead below 2.2 per cent, compared to 4 per cent under the current system.

Conservatives largest single party

The Tories need a lead above 2.2 per cent, compared to 4 per cent under the old boundaries.

Conservative majority

The Tories require a lead above 7.4 per cent, compared to 11 per cent under the current system.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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