David Cameron’s pledge to his MPs that none of them who want to stand again in 2020 will be left behind as a result of the boundary changes is a sign that the Prime Minister thinks party management will be seriously important this year.
A fight between MPs over fewer constituencies would have been bad for party morale, and inevitably theories about MPs favoured by the party leadership being kept safe would have spread through the party. But given the changes aren’t being submitted until 2018, the decision to announce the ‘no-one left behind’ pledge now suggests that Cameron thinks 2016 is a good year to calm any Conservative nerves on this matter. Why could that be? Well, there’s the small matter of a referendum on the issue that has the power like no other to split the party, and that referendum is expected this year. Any false move by the Tory leadership, whether on that referendum or any other issue, will make permanent divisions in the party more likely, and Cameron doesn’t want that.
The next thing that the Prime Minister needs to deal with is the issue of a free vote in the EU referendum itself. Most of those involved in enforcing party discipline and collective responsibility are working on the assumption that Cameron will announce that ministers can campaign on whatever side they want in the referendum, but that he’s delaying this so the eurosceptics can feel pleased that they’ve won a campaign. But too long a delay may make him look a little grudging, and won’t help his campaign for good party management this year.