May’s catastrophic election result has just handed Corbyn a game-changing gift

may corbyn U-turn
Tracy Keeling

Theresa May suffered a catastrophic election result in June, losing her party an overall majority. And now, that result has handed Jeremy Corbyn an unexpected, game-changing gift.

According to The Times, May is on course to drop [paywall] a long-standing plan to cut the number of MPs. This proposal would have cut 50 MPs from parliament. Many Labour MPs faced the axe – including Corbyn.

Essentially, the plan could have locked the Tory party in power indefinitely. So it’s a welcome U-turn for Labour. And it confirms that, after Labour’s promising election result, Corbyn’s party has everything to play for at the next election.

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Rigging the game

The Conservative government promised a boundary review two days after winning the 2015 general election. It claimed boundary changes would cut costs. The plan was to reduce the number of constituencies, and therefore MPs, from 650 to 600 – by equalising the number of voters in each area. The Boundary Commission put together a review on how the plan would work in practice.

It would hit Labour disproportionally; research suggests it would lose up to 10% of its seats.

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But it’s not only Labour MPs, including Corbyn, who would lose their seats because of the plan. It would also affect some Tory MPs. Since 2016, some Conservatives have been voicing opposition to the plan and demanding the government cut the amount of ministers and Lords if the boundary changes go ahead.

Following the terrible 2017 general election result, The Times claims [paywall] that senior Tories fear the changes are too big an ask. Three top Tory sources told the publication that the leadership will likely shelve the plan. One commented [paywall]:

The plan to reduce the Commons to 600 was a colossal liability which could only have been simply implemented if they had got a 100-plus seat majority in June, which they did not…

The devil’s in the detail

But May’s government isn’t completely scrapping the plan. The Times reports [paywall] that the government is going to ask the Boundary Commission to redo its review. The new plan will allegedly keep all MPs but will still redraw constituencies to make sure they are approximately the same size.

So while the Tories will no longer be axing loads of Labour seats, there’s still room to ensure that the redrawing benefits their party; such as finding ways to dilute the opposition vote in certain areas. A new plan could, for example, move a chunk of a Labour stronghold into another constituency, thereby watering down Labour’s vote in that area.

Changing electoral areas with the intention of benefiting one particular party is known as gerrymandering.

Weak and wobbly

But for now, according to The Times, the Labour Party is willing [paywall] to support May’s latest U-turn. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Because as Corbyn has said, he’s one of many who see the original plan as a blatant attempt at gerrymandering.

Labour will surely be watching closely to check if the redrawing of constituencies strengthens the Tories’ position. And given how weak the Conservative Party is after the last election, it should probably watch very closely indeed.

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