18 April 2012

Boundary Commission England: The Tories Couldn't Have Drawn The Boundaries Better If They Had Done So Themselves.

Just been to a McDougal Trust workshop on the new electoral boundaries. The speakers were Professors Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie (of Bristol and Sheffield Universities respectively) and with electoral expert Dave Rossiter also presenting.

Basically the gist of the workshop was that the most disruption to boundaries has occurred in urban England. The several reasons for this being that unlike in Wales and Scotland the English Boundary Commission took the view not to split wards to meet the strict criteria that all constituencies be within 7641 electors. Because a lot of wards are bigger than this quota and because a lot of urban areas might have an odd number of wards this has inevitably led to much more constituencies bearing no relation to community links or local authority boundaries.

As I have argued here before, to gerrymander the boundaries in their favour the Tories need to split up Labour voting urban areas and connect them with surrounding Tory voting rural areas. And this is precisely what the Boundary Commission in England has done. I'm sure Tory mathematicians had got their calculators out when writing the legislation to decide on the most propitious size of constituency to do this, but without the policy decision not to split wards it might still have backfired.

In Scotland and Wales a different view (and in my view a much more correct view) was applied. By splitting wards they have kept disruption to a minimum and local authority boundaries have been largely respected.

As to the long term implications of having these massively disruptive reviews it can only harm the prospects of any smaller party that manages to build community links only to find half their constituency has been moved for the next election. It makes a complete and utter mockery of what is supposed to be the strongest reason for keeping the disproportional first-past-the-post single constituency system that we have as a poor excuse for our electoral democracy.

By the 2020 election, we will also have the disruption of individual voter registration which could increase the number of unregistered from currently 3.5m to up to 10m voting age adults. The most likely to drop off the register are the poor urban electors in rented accommodation. As constituencies are drawn by registered numbers not voting age population, this will increase urban seats more than rural seats. With the new strict criteria on evening out registered numbers of electors between constituencies, even a reduction on one or two seats in entitlement in an area can have massively disruptive effects right across the country as demonstrated by this review.

As long as the Tories can keep getting a majority of seats with just 30 something percent of the vote, these frequent reviews are unlikely to change. Why the Lib Dems are going along with all this though is a real mystery.

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