It was always inevitable and I doubt Dave cared anyway after the Conservative Party dropped its support for Lords Reform. This now means, as confirmed by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, this afternoon, that the proposed boundary changes will be ‘put on hold’.
The boundary changes had caused a stir on all sides of the House of Commons, with many backbench Tory MPs concerned about their own constituencies. This therefore made things difficult for David Cameron who was also facing a backlash over Lords Reform. Unity of the Conservative Party has therefore been secured, although concerns over Europe will continue to rock the party in the weeks, months and years to come. We must also remember that while David Cameron has been Prime Minister for just over two years he has been Leader of the Conservative Party for nearly seven. The strain of office and tension that exists in any party, generally caused by groups of aspiring leaders, therefore begins to take its toll.
Boundary changes in Northern Ireland meant a drop from eighteen seats to sixteen. East Londonderry was to be eradicated along with South Belfast and North Antrim was to be considerably changed. Northern Ireland would therefore have immediately lost one Unionist MP and one Nationalist MP before the votes would even have been counted. This would also have had major repercussions for Unionism come the Assembly election due in the same year or 2016 (whichever year is agreed upon).
Nevertheless the boundary changes would have also brought some hope and positivity for some sitting MPs, namely Nigel Dodds and Naomi Long. Changes to North Belfast would have brought more Unionist votes into the constituency from the Shankill which will now remain in West Belfast, leaving some 3-4,000 Unionists disenfranchised with the rest of the constituency (that is unless Sinn Fein decide to take their seats). The dropping of the boundary proposals will therefore make Nigel’s task a little bit more of a challenge come 2015.
Naomi Long MP famously (or infamously) took East Belfast in 2010 from incumbent Peter Robinson. While she will ultimately fight for the seat on the same boundaries as in 2010 the proposed changes would have been in her favour. The news now that the changes will not happen will therefore be a disappointment to her and Alliance as the seat statistically remains majority Unionist and puts potential runner, and current Lord Mayor, Gavin Robinson, in a better position.
However I am sure that today’s news will have brought some comfort to Gregory Campbell MP for East Londonderry, Ian Paisley MP for North Antrim and Alasdair McDonnell MP for South Belfast as their positions within their respective constituencies are unlikely to change.
Nevertheless I would hint that South Belfast could be a seat to watch given the extension of its ‘Best Before’ date as I suspect that it won’t be a Unionist biting at the heels of Alasdair McDonnell come 2015 but Anna Lo of Alliance who topped the poll in the 2011 Assembly elections with some 7,500 first preference votes. Regardless of this the demographics remain in Alasdair McDonnell’s favour; however given his new status as Leader of the SDLP (of course, he may not be in 2015) and that he will have held the seat in 2015 for ten years, he could face a new set of challenges amongst a diverse and ethnically mixed group of electors. Sinn Fein are growing in the constituency, taking a council seat
off the SDLP in 2011 off Unionism in Balmoral DEA in 2011, and if they stand (didn’t last time in effort to ensure the safety of Michelle Gildernew in Fermanagh South Tyrone) they could shave Alasdair’s vote and hence hand the seat to the runner up. Unionists with a small ‘u’ may also give their vote to Anna Lo on this occasion in order to get rid of Alasdair. This is hard to predict mind you but worth mentioning. I imagine however that the SDLP Leader will remain there with the help of incumbency and the fact that the constituency will statistically no longer be Unionist.