This morning’s headlines once again bring news of Conservative woes over boundary reform.
The Times (£) reports that there will apparently be a “Tory revolt” (a phrase with which we will doubtless become wearyingly familiar in the years ahead) over the party’s manifesto commitment to reform the boundaries of the House of Commons at cut 50 seats whilst we’re at it.
The reason for this is straightforward enough. Whilst an equalisation of constituency sizes is expected to be to the overall advantage to the Tories (with large rural seats) over Labour (with small urban ones), abolishing that many seats before the next election leaves sitting MPs facing a game of musical chairs which, inevitably, fifty of them would lose.
This not only aggravates a troublesome chunk of Tory MPs but also the Government’s only possible allies: neither of the two Northern Irish unionist parties wants a boundary review, for fear that it would (as the last seemed to) benefit the Nationalist parties.
There are also some MPs, like Philip Davies in Shipley, who suggest that without a commensurate cut in the payroll vote a reduction in the number of MPs amounts to a dramatic expansion of executive power in the Commons.
Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats risk losing half their remaining seats and being wiped out in London and the East of England, according to further analysis for the Times by Lewis Baston.
This being the case, it looks very difficult to see how the Government can expect this to pass, especially as the ratification of the boundary review will take place in 2018, after the EU referendum and long after David Cameron’s new honeymoon has ended.
Whilst it’s true that reducing the size of the House was a manifesto commitment, it was also a commitment that is unlikely to exercise a single voter outside those of us who follow politics closely. Boundary reform is not about to become the new tuition fees.
If, as we have suggested, the seat cut was simply meant to be fodder for the universally-expected coalition negotiations that never were, it makes even less sense to go to the trenches for it now.
At least some in Government appear to have similar thoughts: only last week the Financial Times reported that a rethink was underway inside Number 10.
Delaying further will only lead to more mixed messages and poor headlines in the short term, whilst consuming vital time and political capital that would be better spent on the party’s larger priorities: the economy, Europe, and justice to name three.
It will also lay a minefield in the path of his successor when the issue finally comes to vote in the latter half of this Parliament.
Cameron should bite the bullet now, and secure a new boundary review based on the same number of seats whilst making sure his party will actually vote it through when the time comes.
Leadership is the art of picking your battles, especially when trying to implement an ambitious programme with a small majority. This is the wrong one.