Equalisation deferred

The Conservatives attempts at creating equal sized constituencies failed earlier this week, and it failed for purely political reasons. However, despite my approving of the principle I found the proposals so flawed that I do not mourn their failure.

Of course I am heavily biased in favour of my party, Labour, but above this I am an electoral reformer. I want a better democracy, largely because I think this part of what a modern socialist society would look like.

The current system is biased in favour of the Labour Party, and this is wrong. This is not Labour’s fault; the bias is partly the work of an inept and outdated first past the post system, and partly the work of the Boundary Commission – a body that is politically neutral.

There can be little rational argument against equal sized constituencies; all our individual votes should carry equal weight. This applies to the outlying Scottish islands and to the Isle of Wight too – I would not have given them an exception.

Where the proposals fell so short was in the choice of data that was going to be used to draw up the new boundaries. Using the 2010 electoral roll, with so many missing voters, would have created a worse set of constituencies. Since MPs represent everyone within the boundaries of their constituencies, then everyone should count. I favour the census being used since this is the most accurate data we have (and I am aware that even this has flaws).

There is a whole host of other changes I want to, but aside from votes at 16 there seems little chance of headway at the moment. The AV referendum buried proportional representation for a generation, and my party’s actions in the House of Lords saw off desperately needed reform there. Our ‘mother of democracies’ bears a distinctly antiquated look at the moment.

The equalisation agenda has not been quashed but rather deferred. In 2018 Parliament will again look at the issue, and providing some common sense can be applied I hope that we will see some progress. I am not over optimistic though. It gives me no pleasure to say that a lot of self-interest influences politicians when it comes to how they are elected. Whilst turkeys might not vote for Christmas, I would hope that the debate on reform would be decided in favour of the best system, not on who gains the most. If the Tories can be persuaded that everyone should count then I can see equal-sized constituencies in place for the 2020 election. If they insist on only considering those who register then they deserve another dose of the failure they tasted this week.

If the Tories want to argue about fairness them it is beholden on them not give the appearance of self-interest.


One Response to Equalisation deferred

  1. There can be little rational argument against equal sized constituencies; all our individual votes should carry equal weight.

    Ideally, possibly, but

    I think some other factors come into consideration that moderate the idea of “equal sized constituencies” – and how “equal” is “equal”? The current proposals (excepting the Isle of Wight and some Scottish Islands) set a criterion of “within 5% of the average”. Why 5% and not 10% or 1%?

    Other factors include:

    “Natural Communities”. It makes little sense (as is proposed in the North East and elsewhere) to take a parish from Northumberland and to allocate it to a Durham Constituency “to make up numbers”. If those parishioners have an issue with Northumberland Council, how much priority (in reality) will their Durham based MP give to their concerns – and how much (in reality) will Northumberland Council officers listen to an MP who represents one parish compared to one whose whole constituency lies in the council area. (I do not intend to cast any aspersions on either the MPs or officials – but they are busy human beings – and I expect them to be human!) Should “votes carry equal weight”, or should we strive for “equal representation”?

    “The Constituency Link”. Many Conservatives give this as a reason for disliking multi-member constituencies (a key element of STV – one of the “better” PR systems). If we create artificial constituencies in the name of equal-sizing, this link is undermined. In the previous example how much of a link (in either direction) will there be between the predominantly Durham based MP and his few Northumbrian constituents? Particularly if the next boundary review may move “those pesky parishes” back into a Northumberland constituency (where they belong).

    “Stability”. If we are to maintain the 5% maximum variation we will be having much more frequent boundary changes. Apart from constituents not knowing which constituency they will be in after the next election and consequently undermining the principle of “holding their representative to account at the ballot box”, this also has an effect on party workers and indeed on MPs. If you are a party activist in the Northumbrian parish previously mentioned what are your chances of becoming a constituency officer, or building the relationships necessary if you hold ambitions of one day representing your own parliamentary constituency? MPs should live in fear of losing their seats if they incur the wrath of their electorates, but not due to redrawing of boundaries. This requires stability in the definition of constituencies.

    Equal sizing of constituencies cannot be the be-all and end all of boundary drawing. Now of course with STV and multimember constituencies the situation would be much more stable!

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