Boundary changes focus the minds of Tory hopefuls

If you think Tory rivalry is at fever pitch, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The accidental coincidence of the forthcoming constituency boundary changes with the aftermath of the EU Referendum campaign may come to haunt David Cameron or his successor.

The imminence of the boundary review – with its planned reduction of Commons Members from 650 to 600 – means that almost every single Conservative MP will be facing his or her new “selectorate” in a matter of a few months’ time. The volume of Tory MPs siding with “LEAVE” is hardly surprising in that light. Tory activists are increasingly Eurosceptic and the Daily Telegraph rates them currently 75% for “LEAVE”. This makes them even more unrepresentative of Conservative voters, and of the electorate as a whole, than previously.

It is said that for these four months the Prime Minister’s enemies are predominantly behind him. Yet for individual backbenchers, their enemies are everywhere, with the most significant to their side. As the number of constituencies available decreases, so too the number of blue bums on green seats. They will be competing with others of their own party colleagues to be chosen in a constituency that they can hope to win. Prior to the General Election, the salami-slicing process would have given Tory MPs hope that they could scoop up Liberal Democrat seats in the South West. Now there are no Liberal Democrat seats in the South West, their competition will be with each other.

In short, when it comes to weighing up their career prospects the view of their local Association activists will count for more than the blandishments of No 10. And many recent recruits to the House of Commons are full-time politicians, with little or no hope of an easy job move elsewhere. Self interest is a powerful motivator.

Whatever the outcome of the Referendum there will be accusations of treachery and betrayal. In the even REMAIN remains ahead, UKIP will prosper from disgruntled LEAVE voters. Conservative MPs will then find themselves in a race to be most Eurosceptic in the selection campaigns, and in races against ‘outers’ at the actual election. This will also provide unwelcome (to them) opportunities for revived Lib Dems to challenge for the support of moderate voters, who had hitherto been reassured by Cameron’s promise of “compassionate conservatism”.

Labour MPs too will be at risk, from a different disjuncture between their members and the voting public. The Corbynista promise of “no deselections” for moderates is not worth the paper it isn’t written on. The explicit aim of the forthcoming boundary review to achieve greater equality of electorates means that more current Labour seats than Conservative ones will disappear altogether. No Labour MP can guarantee to be facing the same local party as he or she did when selected previously, so wholesale re-selection will be the order of the day. Can we really see Momentum quietly standing back while allegedly ‘right-wing’ Labour MPs get re-selected? The dysfunctional relationship between the Labour membership and their Parliamentary Party will be played out in a series of bloodthirsty coups throughout the Midlands and the North of England.

The referendum and its outcome are far more important than any of these individual scraps, but when you hear an MP taking sides in the REMAIN and LEAVE debate, Boris is not the only one whose decision may have more to do with their own future than that of the United Kingdom.

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