By Tim Montgomerie
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As Grant Shapps tweeted, the big topic in Westminster yesterday wasn't the Vickers report but the outcome of the boundaries review. Fifty seats will disappear in total in an effort to (1) save £12 million and (2) reduce the inequality in the populations represented by each MP to about 76,000 on average (and between 72,810 and 80,473 voters). The political effect of the changes will be to reduce the unfairness of the current system, under which the Tories need a much larger share of the vote than Labour to win a Commons majority. In total, Labour will lose about 25 MPs, the Conservatives 16 or 17 and the Liberal Democrats 10. That reduction is proportionately much greater for Nick Clegg's party and was only accepted by the junior coalition partners in return for the referendum on AV. AV's defeat will make the loss of one fifth of the Lib Dems' parliamentary strength a very difficult pill to swallow and there has been speculation that – in breach of the Coalition Agreement – many Lib Dem MPs might not vote for it. Among the Lib Dem MPs who will face tougher re-election fights are Clegg himself but also Tim Farron, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne.
In an editorial The Telegraph welcomes the review but urges the Government to cut the number of ministers. " In 1900, the administration of Lord Salisbury had 60 paid ministerial offices," it notes, "and presided over an empire. Today the so-called payroll vote is well in excess of 100." Charles Walker made this case at the time – Fewer MPs must mean fewer ministers – but the Government rejected it. Labour meanwhile point out that costs are rising fast in the Lords. The Commons may be about to be cut by about 10% but the Lords has never been larger as the Coalition seeks to increase its representation relative to the swollen Labour benches.