I was in the Commons this week when the new parliamentary constituency map was announced. It was generally expected that Tory MPs would be jumping for joy. The shake up aims to even up the size of constituencies which currently do not reflect the move of people from the cities (Labour) to the suburbs (Conservative). It is true that the plans could cost Labour roughly two dozen seats, but the change also has another purpose.
David Cameron, the here yesterday and gone now, MP for Witney thought it was a clever response to the MP’s expenses scandal to “cut the cost of politics”. You would have thought he might have decided to trim the size of the House of Lords which is not elected and is nearly 900 strong. But no, Cameron decided to reduce the number of elected MPs from 650 to 600. Therefore this shake up has led to the creation of huge constituencies in rural areas and disruptive change in the conurbations of Leeds, Liverpool and especially Greater Manchester. This aspect of the change will not just affect Labour MPs, but Tories too.
The plan may go through, especially if the Scottish Nationalists do not vote on this English issue, but I found many northern Tories unhappy with both the changes and the principle of downsizing the Commons. It was David Cameron’s idea. He’s not even an MP now and his policies are being comprehensively trashed by Theresa May.
A brief look at the new constituency map for the North shows how sitting Labour and Tory MPs should be worried. Conservative Party rules giving MPs with a large chunk of their old seat safe selection may mitigate blue on blue contests. However they’ve created of a huge North Lancashire seat stretching from the Scottish border to the suburbs of Preston. The consequential scrapping of the Ribble Valley constituency affects Ben Wallace (Preston North) and Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley). Bury will have only one seat threatening Tory David Nuttall in the northern part of the town. Chris Green’s marginal Bolton West gets more Labour wards. Then we come to the decision to cross the Greater Manchester-Cheshire border in two places. George Osborne’s Tatton disappears into a seat including Altrincham. There is the possibility of a fight for the new seat clash between the ex Chancellor and the grammar school supporting Graham Brady. The fortunes of politics! From Chancellor to an MP without a seat in three months.But Osborne’s new Northern Powerhouse think tank suggests he is going to stay and make mischief for Thesesa May. The other cross border constituency is Bramhall and Poynton damaging Lib Dem prospects in the Cheadle and Hazel Grove area.
But Labour will lose seats too. Alison McGovern’s Wirral South disappears as does Ivan Lewis’s Bury South and Jim McMahon’s Oldham West. Leeds West goes as does Yvette Cooper’s Pontefract constituency .The greatest danger to sitting Labour MPs will be the need to hold selection contests on new boundaries. The left wing Momentum organisation will be given the perfect opportunity to punish opponents of Jeremy Corbyn.
THE PENDULUM HAS STOPPED.
I had a chance to question ex Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg on the eve of his party’s conference this week.
He was in downbeat mood saying that the normal pendulum of politics had stopped. Normally there was an expectation that it would swing against the government. However with Labour decimated in Scotland, plunged into a civil war in England and with his own party so weak there was every prospect of lengthy Tory rule. The only cloud on that horizon, said Mr Clegg, was the possibility of tensions over Brexit. He identified a fundamental division between Tories who knew the value of the Single Market and sovereignty fanatics.
However when I asked him about centre left unity, he went over old grievances about how Labour had let the Lib Dems down over voting reform before acknowledging that bridges had to be built. Let’s see if the new leader Tim Farron will be more up beat in Brighton.
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