Parliamentary watchers have been quietly musing over this one in the shadows for a while now, but after a year the boundary review makes its first major appearance in the political spotlight after the Guardian published an interactive map based on projections by Lewis Baston of the Electoral Reform Society.
The Guardian, like the majority of the left-wing blogosphere, knows that any headline which reads “Nick ‘Thick’ Clegg Does Something A Bit Thick” tends to generate a disproportionate amount of clicks and comments from the angry brigade. Therefore initial reports on the new seat predictions have been reported through that prism as Baston’s model predicts that "24% of Lib-Dem turkeys will be voting for Christmas" (© the angry commenter) when the bill goes through Parliament later this year.
It’s worth noting that, though rigorous, the research is largely speculative. The bill has a rip it up and start again clause telling the commission to do what it needs to do in order to get those constituencies equal in terms of voter size. It is important to reflect however just how much effort and energy this is going to use up inside the Westminster bubble between now and the next election.
For fervent watchers of the Westminster bubble it’s going to be entertaining, but for MPs it’s about to become a massive, time consuming headache. Imagine it from the MPs perspective for a minute; not only are you being asked to vote to potentially abolish your job, you’re voting to maybe get rid of half the constituency where you’ve spent ten years cultivating a personal vote. Or maybe you’re voting to turn your uber-safe seat into a marginal, voting to turn your life from a broad political thinker to a voter ID machine.
The electorate that you as an MP speaks to could completely change overnight. As soon as your seat comes up on the chopping block your electorate stops being the public as a whole, but might become 200 engaged members of your local political party. A Cameroon moderniser with ambitions on the cabinet could suddenly him or herself pandering to the Turnip Taleban for however long it takes.
On the flipside you might get a few MPs making 360 degree turns on the floor of the house. Is your seat one of the abolished? Well maybe there’s a seat in the Lords if you stay quiet and help reduce three seats into two.
Predictably, some are starting to get nervous. The mutterings of some Liberal MPs have already reached influential Lib-Dem blogger Mike Smithson but, unless party whips carefully manage the transition, this is just the tip of what is potentially a massive iceberg. Every meeting, briefing, speech and article could start to be viewed through a completely different prism; is it a lurch to the right? Attack on the leadership? Brazen u-turn? It’ll all be within the context of trying to secure the seat.
For Labour, the anonymity of opposition means that any problems, and there will be massive problems, will largely take place outside the spotlight. For Number 10 however this could be a publically massive headache. Mike Smithson calls it “just about the only leverage that Clegg’s party still has” and it’s starting to look like they intend to use it. Also, if you’re a Tory, then what better to prove your independence than by teaming up with other like-minded MPs to force a vote just to prove that you’re “sound” to a group of activists who don’t even remotely reflect the priorities of the wider public?
People are worried about their jobs, the cuts and the future of the economy. Parliamentary parlour games will make Westminster even more remote from people’s real lives and the public’s regard for politicians will get even lower. So while some will no doubt enjoy the fireworks as the internal bickering starts, we have a duty to constantly remind ourselves why we’re doing this and not get too distracted by the side-show.