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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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.