The Government’s plan to redraw constituencies and cut the number of MPs will disproportionately hit Labour and the Liberal Democrats – and could halve the number of Lib Dem seats at the next election, according to internal Labour research.
A confidential briefing for Labour MPs seen by Tribune estimates that, if this year’s general election had been contested with 600 seats instead of 650, the Lib Dems would have won seven fewer seats – more than 13 per cent of their total. Labour would have lost 25 seats, nearly 10 per cent, and the Conservatives 13 – just over 4 per cent.
In addition, Lib Dem MPs in marginal seats face a possible wipeout at the next election as thousands of hostile voters are added to their constituencies’ electoral rolls, in order to reach the increased voter quota. MPs returning to Parliament this week had their first debate on the proposals in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, which will also provide for a referendum on using the alternative vote system for general elections. The bill passed its first debate with some rebellion.
Shadow Justice Secretary Jack Straw told MPs that the constituency changes were intended to harm Labour. “They do represent the worst kind of political skulduggery for narrow party advantage”, calling them the “antithesis of the high ideals that the Deputy Prime Minister set out”. Conservative former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis added: “The people might respect us more if we admitted the real reasons for what we are doing. Of course, party advantage is implicit in what we are talking about.”
Labour’s research – partly supported by a separate study for BBC Newsnight – found that the redrawing of boundaries would itself penalise the Lib Dems, because their constituencies are often surrounded by other parties’ seats. “The combination of the reduction in the number of MPs and a national swing against the Liberal Democrats could more than halve their parliamentary representation, pushing back to the Highlands of Scotland and the South West of England”, the survey concluded. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg insisted there were too many MPs and that the disparity in constituency sizes was too great.