Rupert Murdoch listens to Barack Obama at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council annual meeting, at the Four Seasons Hotel, on November 19, 2013, in Washington, DC. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Rupert Murdoch predicts Labour victory in 2015

News Corp head says Cameron "will be dead meat" if the Tories fail to do a deal with UKIP.

With the polls narrowing in the wake of the Budget (YouGov puts Labour's lead at two points today), thoughts have turned to the possibility of a Conservative victory in 2015. But one man still predicting that Ed Miliband will make it to No. 10 is Rupert Murdoch. Earlier today, he tweeted:

The Conservative leadership has long rejected a national pact with UKIP (for the reasons I described here) but that leaves open the possibility of local deals between the two parties' candidates. Nigel Farage said last year that "a couple of dozen" Conservative MPs would be open to an agreement, an estimate described by Tory Philip Hollobone (who was endorsed by UKIP in 2010) as "spot on". 

At a fringe meeting with Farage at last year's Conservative conference, Bill Cash warned that UKIP could cost the Tories up to 60 seats and hand Miliband the keys to Downing Street. "Let us be realistic. Are we going to be allies or enemies? Lay off our marginals," he said.

While UKIP is unlikely to inflict as much damage on the Tories as Cash fears, the split in the right-wing vote (UKIP draws nearly half of its support from 2010 Conservatives), will make it easier for Labour to dislodge the Tories in the marginals it needs to win to become the largest party. At the last election, with a UKIP share of just 3 per cent, there were 20 constituencies in which the party's vote exceeded the Labour majority (one shouldn't make the error of assuming that all those who supported the party would have backed the Tories, but many would have done). Should UKIP poll around 8 per cent, it could well indirectly propel Labour to victory. Unless the Tories manage to dramatically reduce support for Farage's party between now and the general election campaign, talk of pacts will endure. 

But in the absence of a full deal, it looks this is one "winner" that Murdoch won't be backing. 

P.SOne interesting question is the extent to which Murdoch's prediction has been influenced by his recent conversations with Conservatives such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. It was during a recent meeting with the News Corp head that Gove reportedly said that George Osborne, not Boris, would be Cameron's strongest successor (a discussion seemingly premised on Conservative defeat in 2015). Murdoch, who has never warmed to Cameron (asked by Charlie Rose in 2006 "What do you think of David Cameron?", he replied: "Not much"), may well be indulging in some wishful thinking. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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.