DIRTY FIGHT FOR POLITICAL GOLD; Westminster Is Locked in a Brutal Game of Power Politics with Nick Clegg and David Cameron in the Fight of Their Lives, Writes DAVID WILLIAMSON. the Coalition Battle over Lords Reform and Constituency Boundaries Is Really a Struggle for Survival
Byline: DAVID WILLIAMSON
Q: Tory rebels killed off the Liberal Democrat dream of Lords reform so Nick Clegg has torpedoed David Cameron's cherished plan to equalise the size of constituencies and cut the number of MPs by 50. This is simple tit-for-tat politics, isn't it? A: The "tat" that Nick Clegg wants to destroy is a mortal threat to the future of the Lib Dems. The constituency changes could all but wipe-out his party. According to respected commentator Martin Kettle: "With Liberal Democrat support tanking at 10% in the polls (compared with 23% in 2010), the prospect of fewer than 10 Lib Dem MPs holding on in 2015 would be a real one."
Q: Could it be that apocalyptic for the party of such gleaming household names such as Vince Cable and Paddy Ashdown? A: Even if the parties gained exactly the same share of results as in the 2010 election (when the Lib Dems were riding quite high from Mr Clegg's performance in the television debates) it would still be a very bad night.
According to UK Polling Report, all parties would lose seats if the number of MPs was slashed from 650 to 600 but the Lib Dems would suffer the biggest proportional loss.
The changes would cut the number of Conservative MPs by just seven, but push down Labour's tally by 28 and the Lib Dems' by 11 - a major blow for a party which has just 57 people in the Commons.
Q: Why does this matter so much to the Conservatives? A: The fact the party of Disraeli, Churchill and Thatcher failed to win a majority against Gordon Brown's Labour still hurts like a sting from a hornet. If the reorganisation had taken place the Tories would still lack an absolute majority but would have 299 of the 600 seats.
The party argues that the present system is weighted in favour in Labour and insists it is wrong that constituencies vary so drastically in size.
Is it fair that the average Welsh constituency has 57,040 voters while for a seat in the southeast of England the figure is 75,041? Does the argument that Wales needs a higher proportion of MPs to ensure its voice is heard in the Commons hold water in the age of devolution? David Cameron last week came to Wales and insisted he will fight to force the changes through, saying: "The country would like to see a smaller House of Commons costing less money with equal sized constituencies, and I'll be challenging them in the Commons to vote for that."
He can also point out that the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto stated that the party wanted to introduce proportional representation and then would "be able to reduce the number of MPs by 150" - creating a parliament of just 500.
Q: So this policy allows the Conservatives to be the champions of a fairer democracy while fighting for a system that would make it easier to win a majority? A: Labour has denounced the changes as gerrymandering and left-leaning commentator Mr Kettle snorts: "There is absolutely nothing fair about new boundaries which would give 50% of the seats in parliament to a party securing just 36% of the vote, as would have been the case on these boundaries in 2010."
Q: How would Wales be affected by the changes? A: Wales would see its number of MPs slashed from 40 to 30. Historic constituencies such as Montgomeryshire would, under present plans, vanish.
UK Polling Report estimates this would leave Labour on 20 seats (-6) and the Conservatives on six (-2) with the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru each going down from three to two.
In contrast, the southwest of England would lose just two MPs and the southeast of England would say goodbye to a solitary one.
Q: Would Assembly elections be affected by the redrawing of the Westminster map? A: Not necessarily, but at present 40 of the Assembly's 60 AMs are elected from the same constituencies used in Westminster elections, with 20 coming from regional lists.
The Wales Office has published a green paper which suggests that half of AMs could be elected from the 30 proposed new constituencies, with half coming from the regional list. …