David Cameron bows out…one step ahead of the Boundary Commission

The Boundary Commission produced proposals that would reduce the number of Parliamentary constituencies (and therefore the number of MPs) from 650 to 600 and simultaneously make it more difficult for Labour to win the next general election. This only goes to show that politics is a profoundly wasteful occupation. Labour possesses abundant resources of its own capable of making it difficult for it to win the next general election. The effort requires no public subsidy provided through the offices of the Boundary Commission.

Supporters of the Labour Party were quick to denounce the proposals as unfair, as if the Boundary Commission might be other than a collection of civil servants with a demographic bent and rather a right-wing front organisation funded by big oil, big pharma and anything else big for whom Conservative hegemony is perceived to be the fons et origo of political life. An examination of the arguments advanced in support of this proposition revealed remarkable conformity with the arguments advanced in favour of grammar schools. Both were based on prejudice rather than evidence. The case against making it harder for Labour to win the general election is that it ought to be easier for Labour to win the general election. The case for removing the barriers to grammar schools is that there ought to be more grammar schools. Both grammar schools and the Labour Party are, in this analysis, therefore assumed to be axiomatically for the public good, like a functioning sewage system or the National Theatre. Only dark forces with sinister motives, such as the educational establishment or the Boundary Commission, are held to be against these virtuous outcomes.

The news that the Boundary Commission changes will abolish the Islington North constituency of Jeremy Corbyn fell some way short of the hopes of the moderates in the Labour Party. They want the changes to abolish Jeremy Corbyn. This though is to place an unsustainable burden on purely bureaucratic shoulders. No matter which way these modern-day Sykes Picots redraw the lines across North London, the place is such a vast, falafel-scented savanna of metropolitan conscience-monkeys that a combination of them will always be found to vote in Mr Corbyn with a 20,000 majority. A new constituency, say, of Canonbury and Sevenoaks might do the trick, but though the bureaucrats showed that they have the cojones to reach across the Tamar, uniting Devon and Cornwall in a new civic monstrosity, this seems like a flick of the pen too far. Besides there could be no guarantee that Mr Corbyn would stay put: he’d hop across the border, deselect whichever rival stood in his way, and fight to represent the more electorally propitious Camden and Carshalton West.

For a brief 30 minutes of the week, none of this seemed to matter as Mr Corbyn turned in a performance at Prime Minister’s questions that had commentators declaring to a robot that he had bested Theresa May. This sketch has long held the view that the most important political question of any political week – who “won” PMQs – is pre-determined, possibly involving a ceremony where a man wearing white cotton gloves invites a couple of political pundits to draw appropriately labeled balls from a black velvet bag. The events that subsequently occur on Wednesday lunchtime are then written up by these pundits and their compadres to fit this pre-arranged script.

This week it was Mr Corbyn’s turn to win. The Prime Minister’s jokes were therefore destined to fall flat and her demeanour to be denounced as wooden. Meanwhile, whatever rococo performance Mr Corbyn turned in would perforce be recorded as so superlative that it would make Cicero spit with envy. The Labour leader was at least vaguely co-operative. It is true that he hasn’t entirely kicked his reliance on amateur interrogators, but at least all his questions were on the same thing – grammar schools – and strung together in a manner that approximated to a sustained assault on the policy. Roughly half-way through this ritual, it dawned on Mrs May, and, more importantly, on those sitting behind her, that her grammar school policy was incapable of bearing even an unsustained assault. The Prime Minister’s enemies – that is the Cameroonian modernisers – took heart.

It was all too late, of course, to save David Cameron, who had announced the day before that he would be quitting his Witney constituency straight away. This was presumably before Mrs May’s calculating henchmen in the map department could twin it up with Walsall and turn it in to a tricky marginal. Three months go, Mr Cameron was Prime Minister: now he doesn’t even have the confidence left to go on helping the people of West Oxfordshire with their planning disputes and asylum applications. The EU referendum has undone him more quickly than the wrapping paper on a box of chocolates at a Weight Watchers graduation party.

Luckily, however, George Osborne has made it clear that he will continue to stride forward with the modernisers’ banner, standing up for something he calls the “voice of the liberal mainstream” and putting his continuing energies into championing the Northern Powerhouse, the well-known Wigan-based chain of electrical retailers.  Mr Cameron  said that he does not want to become a “distraction”, thoughtfully announcing this on the day that his one-time deputy Nick Clegg was launching his memoirs, and thus distracting the four or five people who might otherwise have bought a copy.  Mr Osborne is evidently going to carry on distracting to the best of his ability:  who knows, he may yet one day succeed in unhorsing Mrs May and become a fatal distraction. As it happens, the most diverting thing on show all week was Boris Johnson’s crutch, The Foreign Secretary seemed determined to prove that the Boundary Commissoners are not the only ones with cojones by spreading his legs in the first official photograph of the Cabinet.  In the manner of Winston Churchill, who once greeted President Roosevelt in the nude, Mr Johnson wishes to show the country’s partners that British diplomacy has nothing to hide.