Will the Parliamentary boundary reviews really go ahead?

A semi-regular piece of political gossip over the last few years is that the next round of Parliamentary boundary changes (for which 13 September is a key date) may be sunk by Conservative backbenchers.

The reasoning is apparently plausible – changed boundaries and fewer constituencies mean some Tories will lose out and only a few unhappy MPs removes the government’s majority in the Commons.

Yet overall the boundary review will benefit the Conservatives as the country’s demographic changes since the last review play to their advantage. No bias is required for the the Tories to benefit from changes which catch up on how the country has changed. Moreover, being in power the party has access to considerable patronage to help smooth over things with disturbed MPs.

All of which is a long way of saying I haven’t given such gossip much credit in the past, and so far that has been right. But it’s back in the news again – and this time with a twist that makes it more plausible.

This time it is that the House of Lords – where the Tories do not have a majority – may sink the boundary changes. Usually the Lords would be very wary of forcing a defeat on the government on such an issue. Two factors, however, are lining up to make this more likely.

One is the huge volume of Parliamentary business which Brext will require getting through the House of Lords. That it likely to put paid to the previous Tory chatter about reducing the power of the Lords to reject legislation as such a confrontational and controversial move would kill the sort of cooperation Brexit will need. Which in turn means the usual threat of ‘vote this down and we’ll cut your powers’ will have much less power when the Parliamentary boundaries are voted on.

The other factor is bizarrely paradoxical. It’s that critics of individual electoral registration have repeatedly been proven wrong – and this has ended up strengthening their position when it comes to the boundary review.

To unpack that – I’ve written before about the repeated myth-making and fear-mongering from those claiming individual electoral registration was slashing the number of people on the register. The evidence never backed up the claims, and the latest review out just a few days ago from the Electoral Commission has concluded that the register’s accuracy has increased greatly whilst its completeness dipped for the 1 December registers.

That dip is more than made up for by the subsequent growth in the register – showing that individual electoral registration is turning out just fine, leaving a trail of widely exaggerated claims of doom in its wake – but is relevant because at the Conservative Party’s insistence it is the 1 December figures being used for the Parliamentary boundary review.

Which will give the House of Lords the cover for voting down the new Parliamentary boundaries. Not rejecting the principle of what the House of Commons voted for. Just insisting that it is redone with better data which isn’t subject to what was clearly a temporary dip in numbers. It’s not a perfect argument (the 1 December dip isn’t large enough to be statistically significant in the Electoral Commission’s judgement), but does give public cover for taking such a course (especially as the Commission goes on to add, ” specific decreases [in certain segments] suggest that there is likely to have been a genuine
decline at the headline level”).

A piece of public cover which is also one that will require many critics of individual electoral registration to switch around from saying it’s awful to saying it’s working out just fine. Which, as it will be a switch around from fear mongering to facts, would also be rather welcome.

So it’s not looking so certainly at all that those boundary changes will make their way through…

Labour MPs

An update on what might happen with Labour MPs and re-selections: in short, they are technically protected but what odds that protection will come under huge strain after the leadership contest?

Electoral Commission report on state of electoral register


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