George Osborne and David Cameron during the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How the Tories are trying to make it impossible for Labour to win again

Boundary changes, allowing expatriates to vote and changes to trade union funding will all hit the opposition. 

After achieving their first majority for 23 years, the Tories are determined to consolidate their advantage. The opening months of the new parliament, when the government's authority is at its greatest, provide crucial political space to do so. There are three notable ways in which the Tories are planning to tilt the system in their favour - and make it even harder for Labour to win next time.

Boundary changes

The Conservatives signalled immediately after their victory that they intended to pursue the boundary changes vetoed by the Lib Dems in 2013. Their plan to base the new constituencies on electoral registration, rather than population, means that Labour would be hit hardest. As the Electoral Reform Society has noted: "Under the current proposals urban and socially deprived areas where registration is low [and Labour usually wins] are likely to have fewer MPs per person than affluent areas where registration is high." Modelling suggests that the Tories' current majority of 12 would rise as high as 50 under the new boundaries.

Allowing expatriates to vote for life

A new Votes for Life Bill will abolish the current 15-year limit on UK expatriates voting in general elections. The Tories have presented the move as merely ending an "unfair" rule but there are political calculations at work. No age group is more likely to vote Conservative than the over-65s, who account for a disproportionate share of expatriates. The Tories finished 24 points ahead among pensioners at the election, 78 per cent of whom turned out. The extension of the franchise to the 3.3m expatriates who have lived outside of the UK for more than 15 years will give them an additional advantage over Labour. 

Forcing trade unionists to opt-in to the political levy

The Trade Unions Bill being piloted by Business Secretary Sajid Javid includes a measure consciously designed to hit funding for Labour. Under the legislation, union members will be required to opt-in to paying the political levy, rather than being automatically enrolled (and having the right to opt-out). The result, as when the change was last imposed in 1927 following the general strike, is likely to be a significant drop in subscriptions. In Northern Ireland,  where an opt-in system already exists, just 40 per cent of members contribute, compared to 8.8 per cent who opt-out in the rest of UK. 

By reducing the size of unions' political funds, which are used to support Labour among other activities, the reform will strengthen the Tories' already vast funding advantage. Labour currently receives nearly 70 per cent of its donations from the unions and the hope that its ground operation would counter the Tories' financial muscle was not borne out by the election. The unions are particularly aggrieved since political levies are already subject to 10-yearly ballots and that the Conservatives did not announce the proposal during the general election campaign. 

It took until 1946 and the Attlee government for the opt-in system to be scrapped after 1927 - the Tories' changes are designed to ensure that Labour has to wait as long this time. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.