By Tim Montgomerie
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We learnt yesterday that Labour plans to select one hundred candidates in target seats in the next year. The party wants candidates in place and building profile as quickly as possible. My understanding is that Labour will choose candidates to fight seats for the existing system of constituency boundaries. One source told me that if the new boundaries are eventually passed then they will have a problem but not one that can't be corrected by putting half-a-dozen or more of those candidates in the House of Lords. We are gambling, they admitted, but there are huge benefits in early selection and we don't want to forfeit those benefits.
In contrast the Tory plan is to start selecting candidates on the new boundaries. A final decision won't be taken until the autumn when it's clearer whether the boundary review will be passed. After last week's Lords vote the Tory leadership felt defeated but it hasn't quite given up on trying to save the plan to introduce fair-sized seats and cut the total number of MPs to 600. Oliver Letwin is currently holding a long series of bilateral meetings with a variety of the 91 Tory rebels to see what kind of compromise on Lords reform that they might be willing to support. The talks are not said to be encouraging for Mr Letwin and there is now talk that the Liberal Democrats might be offered party funding reform as an alternative sweetener for supporting boundary changes. One leading aide to the Party Chairman told me yesterday that the passage of the new boundaries was the most important single legislative change for the Conservative Party's chances of winning the next election. CCHQ is pleased at the outcome of the boundary review and it has confirmed the general view that the party needs a 10.5% lead to win an outright majority on existing boundaries but a much more modest 7.6% on the new boundaries.
What Nick Clegg will not be able to do, I learnt yesterday, is avoid a Commons vote on the issue. In 1969 Jim Callaghan learnt that the boundary review of that period had not worked out well for Labour but he was compelled to bring the review to the Commons and to urge Labour MPs to defeat it. Nick Clegg may have to do the same. He may have to come to the Commons and disown a boundary review process that he backed only eighteen months ago. Some Tory MPs who risk losing their own seats may, of course, join him in that self-serving position.