Ahh, the noble work of constitutional reform, ushering in a golden age of responsive, hard-working MPs representing balanced, fairly drawn constituencies. But all is not as it seems. Rather than a new dawn for democracy, redrawing constituency boundaries mostly means we will see various bribes proffered to 50-something backbenchers to elegantly make way for big beasts and rising stars, while those facing battles ahead spend the next couple of years telling their members exactly what they want to hear and organising any number of coffee mornings. It will be less Arab Spring and more Vicar of Bray
Your attitude to this will depend on whether you view a knighthood or a place in the House of Lords as a gracious retirement gift or a constitutional outrage. But if anyone thinks the likes of George Osborne and Ed Balls are at risk of departing parliament, worry not, the big names will find a way. Balls versus Benn electoral deathmatch? Not going to happen. We are far too civilised for that. In the same way, Chuka Umunna and Sadiq Khan will not face off in Streatham and Tooting. Umunna will decamp to Brixton, and both will enjoy bright futures
Still, your correspondent is looking forward to hearing prominent politicians, who have constantly sought advancement by demanding a greater say for members, suddenly insisting that the party machine must fix it for them to remain in parliament.
There will be those who do have good reason to be fearful. The Insider has great sympathy for the hardy souls whose seats will absorb large chunks of Tory voters. Usually the main reason for this is being unlucky enough to represent a seat with a town not quite big enough to qualify for a constituency of its own. There are a fair few of these, especially in the north, from Copeland to Workington to, horror of horrors, Sedgefield, which could now go Tory in a bad year (though your humble Insider is sceptical. Phil Wilson will work that patch hard).
What of those whose urban seats disappear entirely? There we will see an unholy scramble, particularly in Birmingham, which just emerged from a major boundary review, and now faces some pretty big choices for MPs in the next. The same goes for Merseyside and Tyneside. One mooted solution? Encourage MPs under threat to stand as police commissioners next year, giving them a big job with real authority, so long as they remain MPs until the next election ‘to hold the government to account’ (and prevent an awkward by-election).
Of course, none of this may happen. The Liberal Democrats are waking up to the fact that a party reliant on small pockets of locally cultivated support may not benefit from massively expanded constituencies. So there may be a quiet alliance between Labour, and threatened Liberal Democrat and Tory backbenchers to abandon the process.
However, if Labour really wants to stop the changes, it will have to make a real offer to discontented government backbenchers. After all, the Tory whips will tell their grumpy MPs that the Boundary Commission report heavily favours them, and so will whip all but the most surly into line. Since Liberal Democrat ministers will have to vote for their own demise, a sizeable rebellion by the party’s backbenchers will be required to defeat the changes.
The only offer that might appeal to backwoodsmen afraid of tree felling is to support constituency equalisation and a less severe English constituency reduction. That would appear magnanimous, as we would still suffer, especially in Wales, but it would allow the Liberal Democrats a way out of the hole they have dug themselves. The question is, do we want to dig them out of their own hole?
A conference or a book club?
Conference is going to feel very different this year. We will have an open day for the public (which will not be the public at all, as most will be at work on a Wednesday) and a special session for Labour women. It will be all new and shiny.
All this frantic structural innovation is very worthwhile. The Insider sneers, but also endorses. If the public only turn up to the Q&A on Wednesday evening, that is still good. But there is no denying that this innovation will help obscure the fact that conference itself will be strangely purposeless.
The policy reviews are in the middle of being drawn up and the deal reached on Refounding Labour will be sorted well before the delegates turn up. There will be little or no internal electoral drama as it is an NEC off-year, and there is little sign that Ed Miliband is going to launch some bold strike for party reform, given he will have just done a deal on it.
In fact, you would be forgiven for wondering what we are all going to do for five days. So, in place of votes and policy debates, conference is going to turn into a miniature Hay book festival.
At the last count, your correspondent has received invites for six book launches, half of which are pleasingly colour coded – red, blue and purple, alongside a ‘What’s next?’ and an unfinished revolution. Honestly people, put some effort into your titles! Only Tom Harris stands out, with his Why I Was Right and Everyone Else Was Wrong, a powerful case for Scottish Labour’s leadership hopeful. So if yet another speech about Tory cuts is turning journalists off, why not have a special book club session. It can’t be more painful than another outing for Eddie Izzard.
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