Coffee House

Is the boundary Black Swan dead?

8 January 2013

One of the amusing inclusions in yesterday’s otherwise anodyne Mid-Term review document was the promise that the government ‘will provide for a vote in the House of Commons on the Boundary Commission’s proposals for changes to constituencies’. If yesterday was a renewing of vows, some of them have been rather watered down since the Coalition Agreement, as its pledge for legislation for providing for fewer and more equal-sized constituencies has now simply become a ‘vote’.

Today at Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions, Chloe Smith was quizzed by opposition MPs on whether the government might just drop the boundary changes. She said:

‘The boundary commissions are continuing with the boundary review in accordance with the legislation which requires them to report in October 2013.’


She then added:

‘I think the parties within the Government have made their positions clear on that matter and if I may quote the Prime Minister from yesterday, there will be a vote, it will take place, and I suppose that is that.’

That vote could come very soon. The Electoral Registration and Administration Bill returns to the House of Lords in committee stage next week, and the amendment that delayed its passage (and may have finally tipped the balance for Lord Strathclyde) will be debated by peers. That amendment, from Labour’s Lord Hart and backed by Lib Dem Lord Rennard, will delay the changes until 2018. I understand that while the Lib Dem support for the amendment didn’t come from the Lib Dem leadership, those around Nick Clegg accept that its success would be a very convenient way of stopping the boundaries going forward. Once approved by the Lords, the amendment would then go down to the Commons for consideration of amendments, or ping pong. At that stage, the Lib Dems would have the opportunity to vote against the reforms in a division.

I’ve examined the effects of this rebellion here, but it’s worth remembering that only a few months ago, Tories were still giving pretty confident briefings that either ‘something would turn up’ in what one minister described to me as a ‘Black Swan moment’ to distract the Lib Dems from their revenge, or that they would, in the event, be able to cobble together support from minor parties in the Commons to squeeze the changes into legislation. Those who I’ve spoken to this morning aren’t confident enough to bet more than the small change rattling around in their pockets on that happening now, although they still refuse to fully accept that the Black Swan is dead.

P.S. The other problem with a cobbling together strategy is that the Tories can no longer have faith that all their own MPs will support the changes. As I reported on Coffee House over Christmas, one has already gone public with his plans to rebel.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.


    There was a clear undertaking by LDs to support boundary changes in return for AV referendum. From another context with apologies ‘if the LDs promise to back you 1000 % watch your back’.

  • David Ossitt

    There is one, just one way that Cameron can bring the deceitful Clegg to heel, to make him keep the promises that he made to support boundary change legislation in return foe an AV referendum.

    It is quite simple he should tell Clegg that there will be active conservative canvassing against the liberal candidate in every ward that currently has a LibDem MP and if in that ward a conservative candidate had very little chance then the conservatives would not field a candidate.

    If this were to happen then it is entirely possible that the LibDems would win few if any seats.

    Of course Cameron would need balls of steel to do this and so it will never happen.

    • El_Sid

      There is one other way – send 41 non-Tory MPs to an Australian jungle for a reality TV show, and then hold a vote….

    • Andy

      Cameron was a fool to trust deceitful Clegg in the first place. He is just a spoilt brat, nothing more. Cameron should have made the Boundary Review unstoppable once the original bill was passed. That was the basic mistake.

  • David Lindsay

    The solution to any perceived bias in favour of the Conservative Party cannot, by definition, be the abolition of scores of Shire Tory seats. The real aim here is to silence various radical and conservative traditions with profound roots and resonance in rural Britain, even more forcefully than the centralisation of parliamentary candidate selection in Labour and in the two Coalition parties, and even more forcefully than the media blackout of alternative voices within and beyond those three parties.

    • Wessex Man

      Now listen here David Lindsay, you are once agai zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Well yes and let me underscore what you are sayi…


    • Colonel Mustard

      Agreed. An excellent insight.

      • David Lindsay

        You are very kind.

  • The Elderking

    It’s just amazing that, despite fair and equal representation being at the core of democracy, a matter like boundaries should be left to politicians who with simply use them to gerrymander the vote.

    It is a fact that Scots are over represented as are English Labour constituencies.

    That fact should be enough to trigger an automatic review – with no political interference.

    That Labour and the LibDems wish to deny the electorate fair and equal representation is a disgrace.

    • David Ossitt

      Well said Sir.

    • David Lindsay

      And the solution to this is to abolish scores of Shire Tory seats, apparently.

      It’s not going to happen, anyway. Something else that this Government is never actually going to do.

    • dalai guevara

      Elderking, I was just about to agree with you – then I asked myself: why is (s)he stopping short of thinking this through?

      In a country where one third of the GE votes can give you two thirds of the seats in the house, who could possibly argue against the implementation of PR? How could you do that and keep a straight face?

      • The Elderking

        Sadly I would agree with you. Only by having PR can the British people ever hope to break the stranglehold of Lab/Con politics. As it is they cling to nurse for fear of worse. I know that in my constituency most people vote Tory simply to keep Labour out. to do otherwise would split the vote and Labour would sneak in by default.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    The LD’s may be the fall guy for this, but the entire body politic will oppose any plan that forces a chunk of them to walk the plank. Now, the entire body and/or the various groupings cannot come out and say that, and will politic this to no end in whichever way gives them temporary advantage.

    But at the end of the day, don’t expect a majority of incumbent politicos to cast a vote that would potentially cost them their sinecure. It won’t happen.

    The smart play is to take it incrementally, and work for a more proportional representation, a task that is made more difficult if a chunk of sinecures is eliminated. That is to say, the elimination of sinecures is a poison pill to proportional representation, and is likely intended to be thus.

  • Archimedes

    The LibDems will live to regret this. Tactically, it means that the Conservatives will have to attack them in the South East, which is the only area of LibDem support which has held up reasonably well. I imagine the Conservative’s could peel away enough of their support in the South East to make it a very painful election for the LibDems, with Labour holding on to large chunks of disaffected Libs up North.

    Let’s face it: the LibDems do not have the financial resources, or the organisational prowess, to effectively fight Labour in the North, and the Conservatives in the South.

    • David Lindsay

      But nor do the Conservatives any longer have any money or organisation.

  • Tom Tom

    Why not simply get rid of Scottish and Welsh and Northern Irish MPs ? Each Province has a Cabinet Representative whereas Yorkshire does not and it has more Voters than Scotland or Wales. 59 in Scotland, 40 for Wales, 18 in N Ireland…..and only 47 with 5.3 million population and Scotland 5.3 million, Wales 3 million, N Ireland 1.8 million.

    • Noa

      Because it would entail the dissolution of the United Kingdom.

      • Wessex Man

        Are you not aware that Blair and Brown started that process in 1997 and that Scotland will soon, hopefully, become independent?

        • Noa

          Of course I am. However that does not mean that we should unreservedly welcome its ad hoc reversion to a collection of EU governed satrapies.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            Better to keep it as one big EU governed satrapy. 😉

            • Noa

              Pro tem, pending an Article 50 departure…

  • Noa

    What would be the purpose of a vote for the Commission proposals if it would not enact the changes?
    The entire exercise seems to be a waste of time.

    • Russell

      To highlight how ridiculous the LibDems are by voting against something which they believe will produce a much fairer system giving taxpayers better value by reducing the number of MP’s and ensuring every MP represents about the same number of constituents.
      The Tories will be able to use this in the next election campaign as an example of the duplicity of the LibDems, as they did get an AV referendum and a review of HoL reform as promised in the coalition agreement.

      • Noa

        Thank you Russell.

        • Russell

          I totally agree with you.

  • Russell

    If the LIbDem MP’s want to guarantee losing their seats at the next general election, all they need to do is vote against getting rid of 50 expense fiddling MP’s and the huge costs they inflict on the taxpayers, and making each MP have a more similar amount of constituents putting them in their job as opposed to the current situation where a lot less votes can elect a labour MP than either aTory or LibDem MP..

Can't find your Web ID? Click here