Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Can Cameron overcome re-election boundaries?

What do the Conservatives need to do to win the next General Election? That is the question occupying the International Convention Centre in Birmingham this week, where the Tories are holding their conference.

Focusing their efforts on poor people would help, according to the latest poll. The Conservative Home website found that 40% of people thought the Tories were 'the party of the rich', while 28% believed it did not care enough for the 'poor and vulnerable'.

Less of a problem, it seems, are the party's views on immigration, or fears of a bias against women and minorities, which were cited by a tiny fraction of voters.

All this will have been digested by David Cameron's team, ahead of his keynote address tomorrow.

The prime minister will also be acutely aware of the murmurings of his own party, which become more prominent during conference season.

Another poll found most Tory supporters want Cameron to step down in 2015 if he fails to secure that magical overall majority. Coming out as the single biggest party will not do, 67% of respondents said.

He needs to pacify everyone, from Right-wingers, who want out of the EU and to ditch gay marriage, to the Lib Dems, so they don't bring the coalition down, and - most importantly - the floating voters in the centre who hold the key to the next election.

One Tory MP told me yesterday he thinks the Conservatives have "no chance" of getting a majority without the boundary reforms that now look to have been scuppered by the Lib Dems.

A side-effect of reducing the number of MPs and creating equal-sized constituencies would be to wipe out the in-built advantage Labour currently enjoys, which means it needs a far smaller share of the vote in order to score more than half of the seats.

The Lib Dems look determined to scupper the reforms, because they are upset about the House of Lords reforms hitting the buffers at the hands of Tory backbenchers.

The latest draft will be published next week, as officials press on with plans that will never see the light of day.

Asked about this by journalists this week, Mr Cameron urged every MP ("Labour, Liberals, DUP, SDLP, Plaid Cymru") to support the changes. But this plea is unlikely to be enough.

Some Tory MPs will be privately relieved that the threat to their comfortable majority looks to have passed.

However, the long-term effect will be to make it far harder for Mr Cameron to secure that vital majority that Tory supporters here in Birmingham are demanding.

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