Defeat on U.K. Boundary Changes May Cost Tories 20 Seats

Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives lost a potential 20 extra seats at the next election in 2015 after being defeated in a vote on proposed changes to parliamentary district boundaries.

The Tories lost the vote in the House of Commons in London today by 334 to 292, when their Liberal Democrat coalition partners joined with the Labour opposition and smaller parties to oppose proposals to lower the number of lawmakers and redraw constituency boundaries before the election. The result reduces the chance of Cameron winning an overall majority in 2015.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg ordered Liberal Democrat lawmakers to vote against the proposal in retaliation for rank-and-file Conservatives derailing his plans last year to overhaul the upper House of Lords. Clegg said last August the Tories had “broken the contract” made with his party during the coalition negotiations of 2010.

Opposition Labour Party lawmaker Jack Straw defended his party’s decision to oppose the boundary overhaul, arguing that the Tories were aiming to gain a political advantage rather than making electoral districts fairer. “The objection to the act was because it was a wholly partisan measure, breaking a clear convention that this kind of measure was agreed across the parties,” Straw told lawmakers.

The Tories, who were 19 seats short of a majority in the May 2010 election, would have been only been two seats short if it had been contested on the proposed new boundaries, according to Anthony Wells, associate director of pollster YouGov Plc. The current constituency set-up tends to favor Labour, which gains an advantage from winning smaller urban constituencies.

‘Partisan Effort’

The Conservative leader of the House of Commons, Andrew Lansley, who oversees the passage of legislation, responded by saying: “One could equally argue there was a partisan effort on the part of the party opposite to frustrate the intention of this house to bring equality and fairness into the franchise.”

The review of parliamentary boundaries is designed to reduce the number of lawmakers in the Commons, Parliament’s lower house, to 600 from 650 and create seats with roughly equal numbers of voters.

The results of the next election will directly affect Britain’s foreign and economic policy. Cameron has said he will only offer a referendum on the nation’s relationship with the European Union if he wins a majority in 2015. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats might seek to temper proposed Tory spending cuts in any future coalition negotiations.

Earlier this month, lawmakers in the Lords voted to postpone the planned constituency shake-up until 2018 at the earliest.

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