Of all the publications from the Office for National Statistics this morning, the electoral statistics for the UK doesn’t sound like the most gripping. But it is the start of a very big political row, which is the boundary review. These electoral statistics will spark the formal review by the Boundary Commissions, which will then lead to new proposals for constituency boundaries later this year.
Unsurprisingly, lots of MPs are nervous about this, especially Labour MPs who would face hostile constituency parties if they apply for selection in a new seat. The Labour whips alerted their MPs earlier this week, and are sending further updates once the Commissions make their announcements.
Meanwhile, the executive of the Conservative 1922 Committee is trying to work out how to get through the changes without too much upheaval, and has launched a consultation of Tory MPs about the rules for MPs applying for selection or re-selection. The letter to MPs, passed to Coffee House, says:
‘The objective of the 1922 Committee and of the party was to arrive at rules that would minimise disruption for colleagues seeking to return to the Commons at the next election. In recent weeks, some colleagues have asked whether it might be sensible to look again at these rules in the context of the new parliament in which more areas are represented solely by Conservatives.
‘The Prime Minister has repeated his commitment that the process should be as helpful as possible to colleagues and it is unlikely that we would wish to change the arrangements in every respect.’
The executive wants to know whether MPs should only get an automatic right to a selection interview if a certain amount of their constituency is moved into another seat by the changes, and whether there should be an upper threshold which means that an MP can be treated as an incumbent seeking re-selection if the clear majority of the new seat is made up of the existing seat. It is trying to settle the matter before the Boundary Commission’s first report in the autumn, and has also sent MPs the below guidance on how Conservative candidates for the 2020 election will be selected.
David Cameron has already promised that no Tory who wants to stand for election again will be ‘left behind’, and it is Labour MPs who have more to fear from the boundary changes, given the atmosphere in their party at the moment. But as this process begins, so tensions between certain colleagues and their constituency parties will rise.