By Tim Montgomerie
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The boundary review is incredibly important to Tory hopes at the next election. The reduction in the total number of seats from 650 to 600 will see the number of Tory MPs drop by 5 to 10 but the reduction in the number of Labour MPs (20 to 25) will be much greater. The number of Lib Dem MPs is expected to fall by 5 to 7 according to my well-informed source.
In the latest edition of The Spectator (not yet online) James Forsyth underlines the importance of these changes to Tory election hopes:
"The pollster Anthony Wells calculates that if an election were held today on the current boundaries, Labour would be two seats short of an overall majority. When you consider that there are five Sinn Fein members who don’t take their seats, that translates into a majority of sitting MPs. If, however, the election were held on the proposed new boundaries, the Tories would be two short of an overall majority. This would allow them to govern alone if they wanted."
The Cameron deal with Clegg had been that Tory MPs would enable last year's AV referendum if Lib Dem MPs enabled the boundary review. On Sunday the Liberal Democrat peer Matthew Oakeshott – close fiend of Vince Cable – suggested the terms of the deal should change and the boundary review would be linked to Conservatives delivering an elected House of Lords. On ConHome today Lord Lamont argues that a Lords elected by proportional representation would give the Lib Dems "a huge, permanent, enhanced role in politics". Norman is right. James Forsyth reports that it's not just Oakeshott who is making the boundaries/ Lords link:
"In Clegg’s head, the link is very strong indeed. If Lords reform does not go through, the Lib Dems would not feel obliged to support the new Tory-friendly boundaries. Without Liberal Democrat votes, it would be difficult to get this electoral reform — which the Labour party detests, for obvious reasons — through the Commons."
Key will be the sequencing. The Conservatives think the boundary review which is through most of its parliamentary stages might be settled by May next year and could be ratified before parliament's summer recess. Lords reform hasn't even started ping-ponging between the green and red benches. It's still very possible that George Osborne will get his new boundaries and Nick Clegg might not get PR for the Lords.