The Liberal Democrats’ decision to scupper the boundary reforms gave them two advantages for 2015. The first was obvious: they would not lose the seats that the Boundary Commission would have scrapped. The second is that they – and Labour – were able to start selecting their candidates for the next general election on the basis of the existing boundaries a full year ahead of the Conservatives, who would continue to wait for parliament to approve those changes.
ConHome reveals today that Grant Shapps has changed that policy in order to prevent the Tories falling behind in their 2015 campaigning. The Conservatives will also use the existing constituency boundaries. He tells the site:
‘The Coalition agreement commits us to voting on the new boundaries, but that vote won’t take place for another year. In the meantime I’m absolutely determined to ensure that we get first-class candidates out and about, working for their communities and becoming known for their drive and passion.’
There’s an obvious inference in this: that the Conservatives have given up on their hope that the boundaries might squeak through or that Nick Clegg might change his mind. The Liberal Democrats are emphatic that the latter simply will not happen, saying it would be an absurd climbdown from the robust language Clegg has used on the matter thus far. They are also pushing the line that allowing the Commission to continue its work on the new constituencies will cost a further £4 million, which is a counter-argument to the line the Conservatives use when the fight comes up in the Commons next year that the Lib Dems and Labour are preventing them from cutting the cost of politics. One Lib Dem source says: ‘We still think the best thing to do is save money and not have a vote.’
But the Tories are insisting that they are not giving up on the boundaries by any means. They are still sticking to their line that they expect the vote to go through. Even so, this shows that they are not confident of the wait for the changes being worth it.