13 September 2011

New Constituencies Make A Mockery Of Democracy.

So now we know what has been happening behind the closed doors of the boundary commissions. We know a little earlier than we should of thanks to this leak (hat-tip brighton politics blogger). The 4 constituencies we had in Brighton Pavilion, Brighton Kemptown, Hove and Lewes have become 3 - Brighton Pavilion & Hove, Brighton & Hove North, and Lewes & East Brighton.

What these changes do is create 1 very safe Green seat and 2 safish Tory seats. It also demonstrates the arbitrariness of the boundary system. There are no community links between some of these wards. For instance the Brighton and Hove North constituency doesn’t even live up to its name. It includes coastal wards like Westbourne, Wish and… South Portslade!!

If we are to have a horizontal – north/south divide of Brighton and Hove, it makes much more sense to swap these B&H Nth wards for BP&H wards Goldsmid and Preston Park which lie to the north of the coastal wards. This would leave both constituencies relatively unchanged in terms of electors (plus 523 in B+H Nth 80118 and minus 523 in BP&H - 75468). Still well within the remit of having between 72,810 and 80,473 electors that the rules allow.

It would also have been possible to have kept the east/west split and therefore kept the constituencies similar to the present situation if they had wanted. A cynic might suggest these boundaries have more to do with containing the Greens within 1 constituency and therefore just 1 MP. Making the changes I suggest would turn both B+H Nth and BP&H into marginal Green/Tory seats, surely a much better outcome for democracy and common sense. It will be interesting to see if any of these suggestions are seriously considered during the consultation process which now follows for 12 weeks ending 5 December.

Generally, these boundary changes are a big political con, a gerrymander to help elect more Tory MPs. The boundary commissions may try to be impartial in theory, but they work within a clear remit that is very partial indeed as Lewis Baston puts it:-
"Part of the Conservatives aim is to tilt the balance in marginal seats based on free-standing towns by adding a few thousand rural electors.
They don't even deliver the equal constituencies they champion. Before we had constituencies varying from 55,000 to 110,000. But this was skewed by a few anomalies - western isles and Isle of Wight, most were actually within the 65,000-80,000 bracket. The new boundaries do nothing about the current extreme anomalies and boundaries will still vary from 55,000 to 81,000. But as Lewis states about the new rules:-
"An under-appreciated aspect of the legislation is the further boundary reviews every parliament. These will not be minor tweaks, as the likelihood is there will be huge disruption each time. The numbers on the electoral register, particularly in urban areas, are not a stable quantity and they are likely to fluctuate more wildly when Individual Electoral Registration is introduced from 2014. This will cause unstable parliamentary boundaries. Even fairly small changes in numbers registered can have big ripple effects...This instability, as well as some highly artificial constituencies will undermine the electoral system....If the constituency is little more than an arbitrary splodge on the map, with a lifespan of about five years, what becomes of the 'constituency link' argument for First-Past-The-Post?"

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