Nick Clegg speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Lib Dems need to start telling us what they'll be fighting for in 2015

At Spring Conference, some of the manifesto raw meat needs to be presented and debated.

I’m feeling a little unloved. Many regular commentators on my posts here at The Staggers will be completely unsurprised by this revelation and will no doubt be having a quick snigger at my expense, but let me clarify what I mean. Because it’s not just me. The Lib Dems as a party seem to have dropped off the news media’s radar altogether.

The floods seem to be hung on the Tories, with special guest appearances by ex-Labour ministers, while UKIP keep their hand in by pinning the blame for the whole thing on the advent of gay marriage. Nary a mention of the Lib Dems. The news that the Scots may have to look elsewhere for their currency if they vote for independence also seems to be owned by a combination of George Osborne and Alistair Darling.

The good folk of Wythenshawe and Sale East may have doomed us to our eighth lost deposit in 15 by-elections (sooner or later someone in HQ is going to start noticing that trend and maybe worry about it a bit) but we still came fourth – not quite bad enough to make us interesting and certainly not enough to stop UKIP being the main story (although there seems a bit of a debate about whether coming second in a by-election once again is a good or bad result for them).

Even The Staggers seems to have forgotten us, with just two of the last 30 stories from the UK’s foremost political publication focusing on one of the two parties in government (no doubt my editor is thinking 'yes, well, if you pulled your finger out a bit more...'  but you get my drift).

So why is this? After all, it’s almost making me hanker after the days when a good non-sex scandal meant we dominated the front pages. Well, can I suggest it may be something to do with the differentiation strategy – you know, the one where whenever the Tories do something, almost anything, we give a sharp intake of breath and say "I don’t think that seems terribly sensible."

Don’t get me wrong, I like it when we do that. But the press are only going to write "another coalition row" so many times before they get bored with it. And I think that time has come. So we need to start following up that sharp intake of breath with an alternative plan, an explanation of what we would rather do instead. And when we do – for example, the raising of the tax threshold – then suddenly the headlines start appearing once again.

It may be chucking it down outside, but Spring Conference is just around the corner, and I hope some of the manifesto raw meat is going to presented and debated. It’s time we started telling people a little more of what we’ll be fighting for in 2015 – both in the election, and, if needs be, in the coalition negotiations.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.