Tories bullish over changed boundaries

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

Brian Mawhinney, the Conservative Party chairman, yesterday made the most optimistic forecast yet of the number of seats the Tories are set to gain from the redrawing of parliamentary boundaries.

Dr Mawhinney's insistence that the changes would deliver an extra 20 seats at the next election significantly outstrips predictions by leading electoral analysts.

The claim to a parliamentary press gallery lunch was ridiculed by John Prescott, Labour's deputy leader.

The Tory party chairman also extolled the virtue of winning elections on a minority share of the vote, declaring: "Even in 1983 and 1987, when we won landslide victories, a good 58 per cent of those who voted supported other parties.

"So, while we want and will work for every vote that we can get, we do not need to win over everyone - or even most people - in order to win."

On the boundary changes, Dr Mawhinney said the Conservatives would have achieved an overall majority of 41 instead of 21 had they been in place at the 1992 election.

But Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher of Plymouth University put the figure at just 27 - a difference of six in the overall majority over all other parties. The psephologist Robert Waller, author of the The Almanac of British Politics, put the figure at 32.

Mr Prescott said the party chairman's claims reached "new depths of self- delusion . . . To give the impression that the Conservatives can't lose the next election smacks of traditional Tory complacency and contempt for the electorate."

Dr Mawhinney said: "I am not arguing that Conservative support is at record levels or that a Government leading a country which has been through a tough recession and naturally disliked tax increases is wildly popular. What I am saying is that we are in a stronger underlying electoral position than some commentators assume."

Dr Mawhinney said the Conservatives had "thus far" kept quiet about the impact of the new boundaries, "but our own assessment is that the changes will be worth an extra 20 seats on our majority".

Mr Prescott challenged Dr Mawhinney to say why, if he believed the Tories could not lose, he went on the "chicken run", exchanging his current Peterborough seat for Cambridge North West.

"Of the new boundaries Mr Mawhinney is so pleased with, Peterborough is the Tories' 93rd most vulnerable seat. If the Tories lose Peterborough, as Mr Mawhinney expects, Labour will be forming the next Government with a comfortable working majority."