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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PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.