By Tim Montgomerie
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The Independent follows up on a PoliticsHome story this morning and confirms that the Liberal Democrats are planning to start selecting their candidates for the next general election on existing parliamentary boundaries. I've already noted that this has been Labour's plan for some time.
For the moment, however, the Tories are still planning to select on the basis of the new boundaries. This may mean that if the boundary review does fail we will have too few candidates and candidates in the wrong places. A Liberal Democrat source explains to The Independent why this will disadvantage Conservatives:
"Ideally in key seats you'd spend the next two years making sure voters had been approached at least once on the doorstep and seen literature promoting our candidates… The danger is if you try to do this on the basis of seats that don't even exist – and are unlikely to – you may have a lot of catching up to do at the end."
The Conservatives don't have to make a decision quite yet – the plan has always been to wait until after November's police commissioner elections before starting selections. But the party will have to make a decision soon. If selection proceeds on the basis of new boundaries we run a high risk of unnecessary squabbling between existing Tory MPs fighting for redrawn constituencies and we give our opponents the advantage of having settled candidates in the right place for longer.
Tory HQ is not yet willing to give up on the boundary review. There are slim hopes that the DUP, SNP or/and Plaid may yet back the boundary review. My hunch is that Tory HQ should resign itself to the loss of this incredibly important reform; a reform, which in today's Daily Mail I explain would have addressed a fundamental unfairness:
"One of the key reasons why the Tories haven’t won a parliamentary majority in a general election since that time is the way that Britain’s electoral geography has been biased against them. Many more votes are needed to elect a Tory MP than a Labour one. By way of extreme example, the Tory-held seat of the Isle of Wight has 110,000 constituents, but the Labour seat of Ynys Môn, in Wales, contains only 50,000. David Cameron came to office determined to end this unfairness by making all seats more or less equal. This would prevent a repeat of what happened in 2005 when Tony Blair’s New Labour won a parliamentary majority of 66 with just 35 per cent of the national vote. Indeed, the inherent unfairness of the current system was made clear at the last election when Cameron’s Tories were 20 MPs short of a Commons majority even though they won 36 per cent of the national vote."
The big reason, however, why I think the Tories need to accept that the boundary review is dead isn't one of practicalities but one of grand strategy. It should now be clear that Cameron cannot win the next election with incremental changes to Tory message or strategy. The near certain failure of the boundary review has effectively moved the finishing post 3% to 4% further away. I've likened it to 'Black Wednesday' in terms of electoral setbacks. It could also, however, be a wake up call. The leadership needs to think much more radically about refreshing the Tory message and, in the immediate term, the Coalition's economic programme.