David Cameron speaks during a joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Downing Street in central London on June 19, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Cameron scrapes a dirty win

The PM's blast at Miliband over tomorrow's strike secured him victory. 

As so often, David Cameron left it until the end of his exchange with Ed Miliband to play his trump card. In reference to Labour's contorted position on tomorrow's public sector strike, he observed that the party had briefed that it would not support the walk-out, but also that it would not condemn it. It was pure opportunism from the PM (Miliband had asked him about A&E waiting times) but in an otherwise evenly matched contest it was enough to give him victory. The Tories intend to make Miliband's alleged indecisiveness and weakness one of the central themes of their general election campaign and Cameron offered a succinct preview today: "Is he remotely up to the job? No."

The session began with Miliband asking the PM three statesmanlike questions on the child abuse inquiries, having chosen not to query the appointment of Elizabeth Butler-Sloss (whose brother was attorney general at the time many of the allegations were first made) to head the independent panel. After Cameron promised to consider the NSPCC's call for a new mandatory reporting law he moved on to the NHS, Labour's main campaigning issue for the summer. 

Miliband brandished the House of Commons Library's correction of Cameron's claims on A&E waiting times, but trying to win an argument on statistics at PMQs is like trying to win an argument on the internet: it never works. The most notable moment came when Cameron declared that Miliband had made "a massive mistake keeping a failing health secretary as the shadow health spokesman", prompting Miliband to say of Andy Burnham (one of those regarded by Labour MPs as positioning himself for a future leadership contest): "I'd far rather have the shadow health secretary than their health secretary any day of the week." 

As well as his blast at Labour over tomorrow's strike (he later confirmed to Tory MP Dominic Raab that a minimum threshold law would be included in the Conservative manifesto), Cameron used his final answer to plunge the depths of political combat as he said Miliband still "has to defend the man who presided over the Mid-Staffs disgrace." Though it is now hard to recall, when the Francis Report into the hospital scandal was published, Cameron endorsed its conclusion that Burnham bore no blame. That he has now been forced to deploy this ad hominem attack is evidence of how weak the Tories' position on the NHS has become. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Britain's shrinking democracy

10 million people - more than voted for Labour in May - will be excluded from the new electoral roll.

Despite all the warnings the government is determined to press ahead with its decision to close the existing electoral roll on December 1. This red letter day in British politics is no cause for celebration. As the Smith Institute’s latest report on the switch to the new system of voter registration shows, we are about to dramatically shrink our democracy.  As many as 10 million people are likely to vanish from the electoral register for ever – equal to 20 per cent of the total electorate and greater than Labour’s entire vote in the 2015 general election. 

Anyone who has not transferred over to the new individual electoral registration system by next Tuesday will be “dropped off” the register. The independent Electoral Commission, mindful of how the loss of voters will play out in forthcoming elections, say they need at least another year to ensure the new accuracy and completeness of the registers.

Nearly half a million voters (mostly the young and those in private rented homes) will disappear from the London register. According to a recent HeraldScotland survey around 100,000 residents in Glasgow may also be left off the new system. The picture is likely to be much the same in other cities, especially in places where there’s greater mobility and concentrations of students.

These depleted registers across the UK will impact more on marginal Labour seats, especially  where turnout is already low. Conversely, they will benefit Tories in future local, Euro and general elections. As the Smith Institute report observers, Conservative voters tend to be older, home owners and less transient – and therefore more likely to appear on the electoral register.

The government continues to ignore the prospect of skewed election results owing to an incomplete electoral registers. The attitude of some Tory MPs hardly helping. For example, Eleanor Laing MP (the former shadow minister for justice) told the BBC that “if a young person cannot organize the filling in of a form that registers them to vote, they don’t deserve the right to vote”.  Leaving aside such glib remarks, what we do know is the new registers will tend to favour MPs whose support is found in more affluent rural and semi-rural areas which have stable populations.  

Even more worrying, the forthcoming changes to MPs constituencies (under the Boundary Review) will be based on the new electoral register. The new parliamentary constituencies will be based not on the voting population, but on an inaccurate and incomplete register. As Institute’s report argues, these changes are likely to unjustly benefit UKIP and the Conservative party.

That’s not to say that the voter registration system doesn’t need reforming.  It clearly does. Indeed, every evidence-based analysis of electoral registers over the last 20 years shows that both accuracy and completeness are declining – the two features of any electoral register that make it credible or not. But, the job must be done properly.  Casually leaving 10m voters off the electoral resister hardly suggests every effort has been made.

The legitimacy of our democratic system rests on ensuring that everyone can exercise their right to vote. This is a task which shouldn’t brook complacency or compromise.  We should be aiming for maximum voter registration, not settling for a system where one in five drop off the register.