Labour draws strength from MPs' boundary changes

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SIR George Young, the rising star at the Treasury, and Sir John Wheeler, the Northern Ireland minister, yesterday joined Norman Lamont as prominent Conservative victims of changes to parliamentary boundaries which are proving far more favourable to Labour than the party feared or the Conservatives hoped.

The Tories look set to lose five seats across north London on revised proposals produced yesterday by the Boundary Commission. The seat of a third minister - that of James Arbuthnot, the junior social security minister - was also split.

The changes will mean that even before any swing Labour may achieve at the next general election, the Conservatives' hold on London will be greatly weakened. Labour's hopes of gains in Essex also rose as the Tory seat of Harlow was made even more marginal by the changes.

In the country at large, the Conservatives now look set to gain only five to seven seats from boundary changes, which will not be finalised until December but are likely to enlarge the number of parliamentary constituencies from 651 to 658. At one point both Conservative and Labour analysts believed that the new electoral map might deliver an extra 20 seats to the Conservatives.

Although Conservative Central Office said it believed it would gain 10 seats overall from the exercise, one independent analyst said yesterday that Labour had taken more seriously the submission of evidence to the commission about the shape of the new seats and had therefore won more of the arguments.

Frank Dobson, Labour's London spokesman, said the changes would alter the balance of seats in north London from 27-22 in the Conservatives' favour to 22 each. 'This is just one bit of the tidal wave that is going to engulf the Tories,' he said.

Sir George, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, will see his Ealing Acton constituency become a Labour stronghold as it merges with much of Clive Soley's Hammersmith seat.

Sir John's Westminster North seat disappears, although he may have a claim on Peter Brooke's City of London and Westminster South seat if the former Heritage Secretary stands down at the next general election. The Kensington seat of Dudley Fishburn is split up, as is James Arbuthnot's Wanstead and Woodford seat, while Brentford and Isleworth, where Nerj Deva is the Conservatives' only Asian MP, becomes very marginal through the addition of a Labour ward. In Barnet, four Conservative MPs are left to fight over three new constituencies. Labour will lose a seat through changes in Newham and Tower Hamlets.