UK Politics

Constituency boundary wars: Winners and losers

Charles Kennedy and Danny Alexander
Image caption Charles Kennedy could be pitted against Danny Alexander

The UK's electoral map could change forever under plans to reduce the number of constituencies and MPs. But who will gain - and who will lose - from the shake-up?

It could get very ugly indeed.

New research suggests the Liberal Democrats could lose a quarter of their seats at the next general election before a vote has been cast, under coalition plans to redraw the political map of Britain.

Other projections have suggested the plans would not have such a devastating effect on Nick Clegg's party, but neither would they hand a significant boost to the Conservatives, as many have assumed.

The truth is, nobody really knows.

The four Boundary Commissions, representing England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, have only just begun their work and are not due to unveil the new constituencies until September.

But it is safe to say there will be an almighty row when they do.

The plan - to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600 - is aimed at ensuring all constituencies are roughly the same size.

'Pro-Labour bias'

Barring a handful of exceptions in the Highlands of Scotland and the Isle of Wight, every seat must be within 5% of 76,000 voters.

The plan, contained in the The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, was secured by the Conservatives in return for allowing the Lib Dems a referendum on changing the voting system.

Prime Minister David Cameron believes it will remove what he sees as the inherent pro-Labour bias in the current system.

Labour have accused the Conservatives of attempting to "gerrymander" the electoral system by creating more "safe" Tory seats.

In fact, it is likely to end the careers of MPs on all sides, as their constituencies are simply wiped from the political map.

Others will face a fight with neighbouring MPs from the same party over who gets to contest the new, combined seat.

Potential flashpoints could include Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and his former party leader Charles Kennedy.

Both MPs represent geographically huge, but sparsely populated seats, in the Highlands of Scotland.

Another battle could see Chancellor George Osborne pitted against the chairman of the backbench Tory 1922 committee Graham Brady, both of whom represent largely suburban seats in the North-West of England.

Bitter battles

Other potential losers could be Lib Dem Ministers Norman Baker, Sarah Teather and Andrew Stunell and Conservative colleagues Grant Shapps and Hugh Robertson.

But the most bitter battles could come between local party associations facing extinction.

The effect of this on morale and campaigning strength in the run up to the next general election can only be guessed at, particularly among Lib Dem activists, already reeling from low opinion poll ratings and public anger over unpopular coalition policies.

The Lib Dems tend not to dominate areas of the country in the way Labour and the Conservatives do - the party has few traditional "heartlands" with many seats next door to each other - making them potentially more vulnerable when constituencies are merged.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was a keen advocate of the plan to cut the number of MPs when it was included in last year's coalition agreement, seeing it as part of a broader push towards "fairer" politics.

But projections - such as one unveiled by researchers at Liverpool University earlier on Monday - are likely to send a jolt of fear through his already jittery party.

Lib dem revolt?

The Democratic Audit map based on the same criteria being used by the Boundary Commissions, shows the Lib Dems could lose 14 out of their 57 MPs.

Although roughly even numbers of seats would be lost across the parties - 16 Conservative, 17 Labour and 14 Lib Dems - that would represent 24.6% of the seats the Lib Dems won last year, compared to 5.2% for the Tories and 6.6% Labour.

The party insists that the only map that counts is the official one being drawn up by the Boundary Commissions.

All we know so far is that 10 seats will go from Wales, seven from the North-West of England, and five each from London and the West Midlands.

And that the final date by which Parliament must put the new boundaries in place is October 2013.

A revolt by Lib Dem backbenchers and peers could potentially derail the plans and stop the Conservatives gaining what they believe would be a significant advantage at the 2015 general election.

Would Lib Dem MPs be tempted to renege on the coalition agreement and side with Labour to try to save their skins?

With the the public's resounding 'no' to AV still ringing in their ears, and the coalition entering what is likely to be its final days as the 2015 election approaches, it would be a brave person who bet against it.

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