Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Boundary Changes: Take Corporal Jones' advice

So, the initial draft Boundary Commission proposals for England have been published and we've had 24 hours of comment before even the first proper analysis has been produced.

Thanks to the Guardian (who, to be fair, pointed out clearly that their methodology was simplistic) we've seen figures flying around showing that, amongst other things, the Lib Dems have been 'shafted'.

Well, hold on a minute.

Firstly, the Guardian's methodology is seriously flawed.  They have simply shared out the constituency votes from each constituency last time in proportion to how many electors have moved.  Any good Lib Dem knows that the level of support varies enormously between wards in a constituency, let alone between them.

So any comments based on those figures should simply be ignored.

Secondly, any good Lib Dem knows that by campaigning in our held and target seats we significantly increase our share of the vote and squeeze the third and other party vote.  So any ward from a neighbouring Con/Lab seat, or a Lab/Lib Dem or Con/Lib Dem seat that we don't fight hard, will inevitably bring the numbers down.  That means that any Lib Dem seat other than one that starts with a huge majority that is taking on new wards will look like a loss.

Thirdly, even when you look at the Gaurdian figures you can see that many of the seats we wouldn't have won on their figures are, in fact, highly marginal.  Look at the proposals across Cornwall, Somerset or SW London.  We win some and lose some on the Gaurdian's figures, but several of the others would be very good targets.

Another big reason to not get too exercised at this point is that these are very much first draft proposals.  And some of them are, frankly, barking mad.  There is a proposed 'Mersey Banks' seat that includes wards either side of the Mersey where there is not bridge.  Chances of that surviving the consultation? Pretty low IMHO.

But the even bigger reason why we shouldn't get too het up about these proposals is that they will, at most, have a small impact on our success or failure next time.  Our national performance as a party and the strength and tactics of our local campaigns in the new winnable seats will have far, far more impact on the results than the boundary changes themselves.

Whatever the eventual boundaries tun out to be, the biggest risk is that we focus far too much of our time and energy on the boundaries process, and not enough on preparing for campaigning on the new boundaries.

What we do need to do now, at national, regional and local level, is look at how we can support the campaigns in the seats that change, but are still winnable.  That may mean making a decision to start doing some initial campaign development work in wards that might join winnable seats now, or it might mean preparing the campaign plan so that it is ready to roll as soon as we know the new boundaries.  Either way it is just as important that we work on the campaigning now as it is that we work on the Boundary Commission proposals.

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