Restin, or bleedin demised?
- 5 October 2012
- From the section Wales politics
Just how dead are David Cameron's plans to change parliamentary boundaries? Are they restin' or bleedin demised?
I'm assuming, I have to say, that they are a gonner. Once Nick Clegg withdrew his party's support and votes, Mr Cameron was bound to keep saying out loud that he is pressing ahead with the vote but in private? Surely even he accepts that they are ex-plans?
The Conservatives themselves seem to have come to the same conclusion. A few weeks ago they started selecting candidates in existing parliamentary constituencies - a sure fire sign that everyone has concluded it is bye-bye to a vote on boundary changes this side of the next election. I bumped into a Labour MP a few weeks ago who had more reason than most to worry about the changes going ahead. He was relieved. Not only could he breathe again, but so could ten Welsh MPs whose seats were on the hit list. It's gone away "for now at least" he added, suggesting that a Pandora's box had been opened and that in the end, a reduction in the number of Welsh constituencies is inevitable.
On Tuesday Lord Touhig will try to find out exactly how much the review of constituency boundaries cost. Whatever the answer, it'll be considerably too much, you can count on the Lord to point that out with some vigour.
Very sad, never mind was the response of many of Mr Cameron's own troops in Wales when the plans seemed to bite the dust. More than one Welsh Tory MP were likely to lose out if the changes went ahead. Some didn't try too hard at all to disguise the schadenfreude.
Yet, the official line is that the vote to change the boundaries is still going ahead. Here's Montgomeryshire Glyn Davies MP's recent take:
"Its such a bizarre situation that I'm not confident I'll be able to explain it to anyone. Equally bizarre will be the position of the current Montgomeryshire MP if he's faced with a 3-Line Whip from his party to vote for new boundaries and an instruction from his constituency association to vote against! Even I'm beginning to find this whole scenario difficult to grasp. So better stop now".
I'll carry on and share with you just one rumour - pretty odd stuff but given it comes from a well-placed and well-informed source, I'll mention it. They pointed to the negotiations in Scotland on the independence referendum. The suggestion was that somewhere in the discussions around allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in that referendum, the idea had been floated that in return, SNP MPs would support the government if a vote on boundary changes ever came about.
Odd? Very odd.
I imagine the SNP wouldn't care either way. In an independent Scotland, they wouldn't be sending any MPs to Westminster anyway. But wasn't the concession around 16 and 17 year olds voting given in return for there being just one, single question? And doesn't recent polling suggest 16 and 17 year old aren't half as keen on independence as you might have imagined, making it not much of a concession anyway? And another thing, doesn't it seem a very odd concession to come from a Lib Dem? The negotiations, after all, are happening between a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State, Michael Moore and the SNP deputy, Nicola Sturgeon. Why on earth would he be seeking a handful of votes in support of a vote his party wants to scupper?
Even if a Cameron-Salmond deal could be done on a rung higher than this, it doesn't ring true to me and I've found no-one who thinks it does. Those far closer to the talks than we are here in Wales have heard nothing of any such element to the bargaining. Still, given boundary changes would undoubtedly deliver a greater number of Conservatives MPs, who knows, enough even to avoid defeat at the next election, perhaps we shouldn't dismiss the idea that David Cameron might yet be trying his best to breathe some life into this political parrot - at least, not quite yet.
Incidentally, news today of something that Mr Cameron does want, or so goes the briefing - a body charged with drawing up a new constitutional settlement for the entire UK. The briefing in Cardiff is that this is precisely what Carwyn Jones has been demanding for some time now.
But spot the difference: Mr Cameron would establish such a body only if and when Scotland rejects independence. The First Minister wants him to go for it now. As Mr Jones he put it in February: "I don't want the UK to break up into different parts, but it is better we consider this possibility now and not in two years' time".
His view, I'm told, hasn't changed.