How it works: No 2: New constituency boundaries
How do I find out which constituency I'm in?
This election is being fought on new boundaries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to take into account population changes since the last boundary review in 1997. Boundaries in Scotland changed before 2005 and are the same this time. You can look up your postcode on an official Ordnance Survey website, www.election-maps.co.uk/
What effect will the new boundaries have?
There will be 650 MPs in the new House of Commons, compared with 646 last time, although there is no change to the number of seats in Northern Ireland (17). All the reporting on the night of 6 May will be based on what the result in 2005 would have been if the new boundaries had been in place then.
Who gains and who loses?
The Conservatives gain from the new boundaries because they tend to represent suburban and rural parts of the South that are gaining population. That means Labour is defending a majority of 48 rather than 66. But this shift in the Tories' favour is nothing like enough to make up for the apparent bias of the voting system against them. (Although the system is even more biased against the Liberal Democrats.) Thus, even if the Tories are 5 percentage points ahead in share of the vote, Labour could be the largest party in the Commons. Thus the bizarre possibility of Labour coming third in share of vote and first in seats. David Cameron needs to be 10 or 11 points ahead to be sure of a majority. This anti-Tory bias is partly because the boundary review is already out of date, and partly because Tories dutifully vote in safe and hopeless seats, whereas Labour voters tend not to bother.
What's the schoolboy howler to avoid?
As before, the majority has to be an even number, because any way you divide 650 in two, the difference is even. A party's majority being defined as the difference between the number of seats it holds – including the Tory Speaker – and all the other parties added together. To win extra pedantry points, however, the majority in practice depends on how many Sinn Fein MPs are elected, because they refuse to take their seats.
Are you going to explain swing?
One thing at a time. It crops up occasionally in discussions of polls, especially the ones in marginal seats. All you need to know now is that they all show the Conservatives doing slightly better than the national average. The advantage in the marginals is probably worth one or two points on the Tory share of the vote. Swing is important to understanding what is going on on election night, so we'll come to it later.
Celebrity endorsements of the week
Labour the winner, with J K Rowling writing in The Times: "I've never voted Tory before... and they keep on reminding me why"; and Eddie Izzard recording an election broadcast: "Britain is brilliant, not broken." The Tories fought back on Friday with Gary Barlow of Take That, who came up with a minimal response when asked if he were endorsing David Cameron: "I would not be here if I was not."
Non-handshake of the week
At an event to answer questions from Yorkshire Post readers, Gordon Brown shook hands with the audience, but pulled back when he saw the next hand proffered was that of Lucy Manning, ITN correspondent. "She is someone who is following me around," he said.
Will the real Gordon Brown stand up?
Thanks to 192.com, we now know that there are 1,320 Gordon Browns in Britain, 951 David Camerons, 50 Nick Cleggs, yet only three Vince Cables. Confusing, eh? Seven of the Gordons are married to a Sarah, and three of the Davids live with a Samantha. Do all these poor women have to twitter and videocast about their lives, we wonder?
Voter of the week
A Mr Tom Demaine from Nottingham South has turned to eBay. "I am currently not planning on voting in the upcoming UK general election," he says. "I'm told this is a bad thing so I am auctioning the chance for you to take five minutes to convince me to vote for the party you support. You will get my email address and can send me any info you want to try to convince me to vote for your party." He then adds, by way of a come-on: "I am quite easily convinced." Despite this, no offers so far.
All bets off
Commiserations to all those who went to Coral, the bookies, and had a flutter on one of its more esoteric wagers: any leader to appear with their flies undone for the first leaders' debate. Hopeful punters could get 100/1 on that, but, despite practised eyes training their opera glasses on the vicinity in question, no such dress malfunction was spotted.
Does your vote count?
Not all votes are equal. If you live in a marginal, your ballot really counts; if you live in a safe seat, less so. Voterpower. org.uk lets you enter your constituency or postcode and discover what your vote is worth. Take the ultra-safe Tory seat of Beckenham. Here, Voterpower calculates that constituents have a mere 20th the influence of the average voter. Yet in Crawley (held by Labour by 37 votes), the electorate has nearly four times the power of the UK average.
Great moments in British political history
In 1886, the Liberal candidate in Ashton-under-Lyne, A B Rowley, was beaten by a Conservative. They both scored 3,049, but John Edmund Wentworth Addison won because the returning officer, the local mayor, gave him his casting vote.
Policies of the week
In our continuing quest for worthwhile contributions to public policy from beyond the mainstream, we present a few items from what may loosely be termed the manifesto of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party:
– "People should have a free go on the National Lottery when they go and vote."
– "Ownership of The Lord of the Rings to be made illegal."
– "All socks to be sold in packs of three."
"He [Mr Cameron] looks down his rather long toffee nose at the regions." – Peter Mandelson, immediately after saying the PM should not try to "compete with Mr Cameron's personal insults".
"Despite brief mentions in the manifestos, immigration is the issue that dare not speak its name," – Labour's Frank Field, speaking as he mounts a stout defence of his Birkenhead seat.
"In this election, the words are dull because the thoughts are small" – David Hare, writer
"In their Stygian, to-hell-with-the-lot-of-them sulk, voters pretend they want straight talking. But think what would happen if, miraculously, they got it." – former Tory MP George Walden.
The political anorak's quiz
1. The shortest amount of time between someone becoming an MP and then PM is: a) six years; b) three years; c) three months; d) two years.
2. In 1974, the Liberals won 14 seats. How many votes did they have to get in order to win this wretchedly small number of seats? a) 1.5m; b) 3.8m; c) 6m; d) 5m.
Last week's answers 1) The last general election not held on a Thursday was in 1931.
2) Britain's deficit last year is expected to be £167bn.
3) Earl Grey was the PM who fathered the most children – no fewer than 13.
4) In 2005, 52 per cent of electors voted for a candidate not elected.
The sceptical voter's guide to the week
Sunday Former party leaders Michael Howard, Neil Kinnock and Paddy Ashdown appeared together on Andrew Marr's sofa. All tried to be helpful to their present leaders and failed (Lord Kinnock said Gordon Brown had a "radio face"). Vince Cable, Lib Dem Treasury supremo, admitted that the poster accusing the Tories of intending to raise VAT by £389 per family was "conjecture".
Monday The Labour manifesto was launched in a rebuilt Birmingham hospital where Sharon Storer harangued Tony Blair in the 2001 campaign, on the day on which John Prescott hit someone. Gordon Brown was introduced by Ellie Gellard, a Labour Twitterer who had urged Alan Johnson to take over two years ago when she told Brown: "Get your coat: time's up."
Tuesday Conservative manifesto launched inside Battersea power station. Huge army of hired semioticians all agreed it was a symbol of something, but unable to decide what. What was really unusual, apart from the manifesto's title, An Invitation to Join the Government of Britain, was that it contained an idea – that of the Big Society, ie "The government can't do everything."
Wednesday Nick Clegg and Vince Cable looked like participants in a three-legged race as they jointly launched the Lib Dem manifesto at the futuristic offices of Bloomberg, in the City of London. As Andrew Rawnsley said, it was like teetotallers launching their campaign in a brewery.
In other news, Chris Grayling, shadow Home Secretary, finally repudiated his private comments leaked in week one and says gay couples should not be turned away from bed and breakfasts.
Thursday Nothing happened all day as the entire media-political establishment got so excited about the first televised debate that it ground to a halt. Peter Mandelson twirled on the dance floor in Blackpool. On Sky in the afternoon, anchor Adam Boulton (moderator for the second debate) interviewed Alastair Stewart (moderator for the first debate). Political journalists decamped to Manchester, where the debate took place that evening. An average of 9.4 million and a peak of 9.9 million watched. Not as many as watched Doctor Who.
Friday Morning headlines mostly of the "Nick Clegg the Messi of politics" variety, as the media digested overnight opinion polls that showed him the clear victor. The Lib Dem leader's happy, smiling face was on 24-hour news channels virtually all day. Vince Cable was suddenly nowhere to be seen. Day of opinion-poll excitement as ComRes put Lib Dems second among those who watched the debate and then YouGov reported the same among the whole electorate at 10pm.
Saturday Day Two of Cleggmania as people struggle with the concept of Labour coming third and winning the most seats. The delayed reaction came from David Cameron, warning of the dangers of a hung parliament, and David Miliband, warning of the dangers of giving up Trident, one of Clegg's signature policies in the debate.
Winners of the tea toewl competition
An event as eagerly anticipated as the first televised debate: the announcement of the lucky winners of our competition for a tea towel featuring a painting of the Bullingdon Club photograph of David Cameron and friends. The 10 best uses to which it could be put were suggested by:
Penny Little "I run a wildlife sanctuary; at this time of year we have orphaned fox cubs coming in. A Bullingdon tea towel seems usefully absorbent. Any satisfaction I may feel on account of Cameron's bid to relegalise hunting would be coincidental."
DJE "Loosening the champagne cork after a Labour victory."
Richard Horley "Being ambidextrous, but predominantly left-handed, I already own any number of left-handed tea towels."
Peter Tyzack "I would like to use it to upholster my footstool."
Nigel Jefferies "Possible use as a novelty dartboard."
Matt McGuinness "I would dry the dishes and after that my hands."
Eric Hutchinson "I would use one to wipe my tears if the Tories got in."
Thomas Sweeney "This tea towel would make a splendid parting gift for my valet, who is retiring this summer."
Michael Leapman "It's rumoured that when the Old Etonians gain power they will replace Asbos with flogging, administered by volunteer prefects. The tea towels, tightly folded and placed strategically within trousers, will mitigate the discomfort of this character-building punishment."
Anita Kay "I'd frame it and display it in my hall to remind myself and others who come to my door what's wrong with this man who would be king."
Each wins a coveted Bullingdon tea towel. Readers who would like to buy one (£10 each) should email the artist, Rona, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Competition time: Win a Nick Clegg fridge magnet!
Ten essential tributes to the Man of the Week must be won! Nick Clegg is Prince Charming: just tell us which other pantomime character he could play, and why, to win a Clegg fridge magnet.
Please send your entries to: email@example.com by midnight on Thursday 22 April.Reuse content