Five Conservative cabinet ministers could see their seats threatened if Theresa May implements controversial proposals to redraw parliamentary boundaries, according to analysis by the Labour party.
The independent boundary commission has published proposals aimed at equalising constituency sizes to reflect population changes – and reducing the number of MPs to 600.
The minister for the constitution, Chris Skidmore, signalled in a Daily Telegraph article on Friday that the government intended to proceed with the plans. He said Labour’s opposition to the proposals was “gerrymandering by any other name”.
The overall impact of the changes is expected to bolster the Tories’ chances of winning a majority, because some traditionally safe Labour seats have lost population since boundaries were last adjusted.
But Labour analysis, based on vote share at the 2017 general election, suggests May will face a political headache, with the constituencies of a number of key colleagues expected to disappear.
The Tunbridge Wells seat of the business secretary, Greg Clark, is due to be abolished, as is that of the Brexit secretary, David Davis, in Haltemprice and Howden. The education secretary, Justine Greening, and the Welsh secretary, Alun Cairns, would be likely to see their seats fall to Labour.
In total, 34 Conservative MPs would be under serious threat, with other high-profile potential victims including the new Tory whip, Esther McVey, the attorney general, Jeremy Wright, and the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, whose majority of just over 5,000 could be cut to a too-close-to-call 159.
The Tories have said they will find new constituencies for any of their MPs whose seats are due to go, perhaps by offering peerages to older members willing to vacate theirs.
But that would create a complex challenge for May’s minority government, at a time when many backbenchers are restive.
Skidmore insisted the government had a duty to implement the proposals. “Without a boundary review, the constituencies that would be contested at the next general election would be based on electorate data from 2000. This would be the most out-of-date in modern political history, disregarding changes in demographics, housebuilding and migration,” he said.
He pointed out that current constituencies vary from 41,367 in Arfon, in North Wales, to 93,223 in North West Cambridgeshire – in effect “permitting one representative’s value to be twice that of another”.
A Labour spokesperson said the party had no objection in principle to a boundary review, but rejected the current proposals. “Everyone agrees that a boundary review is needed, and Labour stands ready to work with all parties to ensure it goes ahead in a way that benefits our democracy and not just the Conservative party.”
Skidmore also emphasised the importance of tackling electoral fraud, including by piloting the idea of requiring voters to bring identification,- something Labour has said could disenfranchise older voters.
The idea of reducing the number of constituencies was introduced by David Cameron, who claimed it was a means of cutting the cost of politics in the aftermath of the furore about MPs’ expenses – though it would also be likely to work to the Tories’ electoral advantage.
Labour’s calculations suggest the Conservatives would still benefit overall, with the changes giving them a comfortable majority of 24 without having to rely on the support of the Democratic Unionist party.
The boundary review process was set in motion by legislation, but the current proposals will have to be approved by MPs in parliament next year. Some Conservatives whose seats will disappear may be reluctant to approve them.
Separate boundary proposals for Northern Ireland are yet to be published. If some of the DUP’s 10 seats are threatened, it could withdraw its support, in effect killing the proposals.
Three Tory MPs defied the government to vote with a private member’s bill from the Labour MP Afzal Khan this month, which would equalise the size of constituencies without reducing the number of MPs.
Introducing his bill in the Commons, Khan, who represents the Manchester Gorton seat held by the former Labour veteran Gerald Kaufman, said the boundary proposals as drafted would exclude the many new voters who registered to participate in the EU referendum or this year’s general election.
Supportive MPs also argued that the extra burden of decision-making that would fall on Westminster after Britain leaves the EU undermined the argument for reducing the number of legislators.
The bill passed its second reading, with government whips asking Conservative MPs not to oppose it – sparking speculation among Labour MPs that the government could eventually back the legislation. The next general election is due to be held in 2022.
This article was written by Heather Stewart Political editor, for theguardian.com on Friday 29th December 2017 11.07 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010