Tories lose crunch vote on reforms

THE CONSERVATIVES will find it almost impossible to win the 2015 general election, polling companies warned last night, after their Liberal Democrat coalition partners scuppered plans to reform constituency boundaries and reduce the number of MPs in parliament.

Lib Dems joined Labour and the smaller parties to vote in favour of delaying the boundary reform package until the next parliament by a margin of 334 to 292.

“To get more than a single seat majority in 2015, Cameron now needs a poll lead he’s really not going to get,” Anthony Wells, associate director of YouGov, told City A.M.

“With the new boundaries the Conservatives would have just needed to hold the votes they got in 2010. Now they need to gain an extra 20 seats.”

Existing constituencies have electorates of wildly varying sizes, with the number of voters in English seats ranging from 45,000 in Wirral West to 91,000 in East Ham.

The current arrangement benefits Labour, and the 2010 coalition agreement included a commitment to equalise the size of electorates and cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600.

Despite this Nick Clegg ordered his MPs to vote against the measure in retaliation to last summer’s backbench Conservative rebellion that killed House of Lords reform.

Last night angry Tory MPs told City A.M. that they were infuriated by Clegg’s decision to abandon collective responsibility for government policies.

“Colleagues were fizzing with indignation,” said Conor Burns, MP for Bournemouth West, who had to resign from the government to vote against Lords reform.

“[In 2015] we will go out with a renewed zeal to take down Lib Dem MPs. Nick Clegg has proved again that he is leading a party more suited to student union politics than national politics.”

Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, said yesterday’s result was a “shameful day for our democracy”.

“The Lib Dems and Labour have voted for an unfair system and voted against genuine representative democracy. If the reforms had gone through it would have saved the taxpayer millions of pounds by reducing the number of MPs.”
But Labour’s Sadiq Khan insisted the plans had been “selfish and partisan”, adding “David Cameron should try to win elections fair and square and not by moving the goalposts”.

YouGov’s Wells suggests that the Conservatives will now need a poll lead of 11.1 per cent to win an overall majority of seats in the House of Commons at the next general election, assuming a uniform swing in the vote. By contrast Labour will need a poll lead of just 2.9 per cent to achieve the same result.

The most recent YouGov poll gives Labour a six per cent lead.