By Paul Goodman
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David Cameron has told the Daily Mail that he wants a Tory majority at the next election and complained about the Liberal Democrats:
"Mr Cameron singled out human rights law, reform of workplace rights and support for marriage as areas where Tory principles are being held in check but urged senior MPs growing tired of coalition not to ‘waste’ the next three years.
‘There is a growing list of things that I want to do but can’t, which will form the basis of the Conservative manifesto that I will campaign for right up and down the country,’ the Prime Minister said. ‘Be in no doubt, I want a Tory-only government.' "
Meanwhile, senior Liberal Democrats appear to have told Channel Four's Gary Gibbon that the party would agree to drop Lords reform if the Conservatives drop the boundary review.
"There’s already been primary legislation to clear the path for that, but it still needs secondary legislation when the seats are signed off by the Boundary Commission. I hear that Nick Clegg and David Cameron could be close to agreeing a plan to knock that entire timetable back into the next parliament.
If that were to happen, the Tories would lose out on the predicted advantage they’d get from the changes in 2015…They would, though, avoid a bloodbath over Lords reform, and they would cheer up some of their own backbenchers worried about their own seats going under the original boundary change plans."
Since, boundary review or no, the Prime Minister can't win a big Conservative majority given the present distribution of the vote, let's leave aside the question of whether he would really prefer a small one to a continued Coalition after the next election – and turn instead to the impact of the boundary review and the seat reduction that comes with it to the next election.
The way votes distribut themselves across Britain helps Labour: that party's support simply spreads itself across the country more efficiently than the Conservatives' does, piling itself up less in safe seats and spreading itself more across marginal ones.
This has been the case for at least 20 years. John Major won a record total of over 14 million votes in 1992 and had an 8% lead in the popular vote over Labour. But he gained a majority of only 21. Although nothing is certain in politics, we must presume that this trend continues.
Under the present boundaries, the Conservatives need a lead of roughly between 8-10% to gain a majority (assuming that they don't spectacularly out-match their performance elsewhere in the marginals).
The lead that they will need after the boundary review is disputed. I've seen estimates of between 4-7% (assuming again that all other things are equal).
So you will see why the Conservative Party cannot afford to drop the boundary review. Mr Gibbon writes that some Tory MPs would be pleased to see it go, because they face both losing their present seat and contesting a new one.
However, I'm not sure this is true of all Conservative MPs. Since one of the effects of the review is to make some seats larger, Tory majorities in many cases would become bigger. The winners from the proposals have been, as ever, less noisy than the losers – but there are a lot of them.
Furthermore, the deal with the Liberal Democrats wasn't to swap Lords Reform for the boundary review. It was to swap an AV referendum with the boundary review. That has been done. And any backsliding induced by the "yellow bastards" would enrage Conservative MPs.
Downing Street is insisting this morning that the boundary review and seat reduction will stay – and you can see why.