This boundary review risks skewing our democracy. It’s time to think again
It’s fair to say the boundary review has caused a stir. Why?
Let’s start with the whole basis of this shakeup. The boundary redrawing is being conducted on the basis of registered electors – rather than the actual population. And that risks skewing our democracy for a number of reasons.
Areas with the lowest levels of registration are often those that already have the least voice in politics. Young people, some ethnic minority groups and those in the private rented sector are all less likely to register to vote than others. That makes many of them effectively cut out of the new political map when those areas get less representation than other areas. Everyone deserves representation, not just those on the register.
What’s more, the review is being undertaken on the basis of a register that’s nearly a year out of date – excluding over two million people who signed up between December and June. That means some regions are two seats short of what they are owed. It would be much fairer – and would make more sense – to draw boundaries based on eligible population rather than an incomplete electoral register.
Then we come to the carving up of communities themselves. The rigid 5% threshold – the maximum difference in size between constituencies – means that some communities will be split up, while others will be merged and dragged into others.
We see that with the deeply unpopular ‘Devonwall’ seat that spans Cornwall and Devon – distinct areas with very distinctive identities and needs. Fair political boundaries are crucial to ensuring people are properly represented in Parliament: we shouldn’t tear apart close-knit areas in a rush to ‘equalise’ numbers.
But on top of that, the strict 5% difference limit poses the prospect of huge disruption every five years through sparking a boundary review for every election. Do we really want to spend infinite hours arguing about seat borders in the run up to every Westminster vote?
Of course, this is all happening alongside a reduction in the number of MPs – something that has a bizarre rationale when you think about it. Because the government argue shrinking the Commons will ‘cut the cost of politics’.
Yet we have a growing unelected House of Lords – and a shrinking elected one. The House of Lords is a super-sized second chamber – second only to China – and shockingly poor value for money. Surely it would be more democratic to address the crisis in the House of Lords than to cut the number of elected MPs? The last Prime Minister appointed 205 Peers over the past six years, at a cost of £13m already. If you want to reduce the cost of politics, you could do worse than starting there and cutting down our bloated upper house.
Cutting the number of elected Parliamentarians does have one effect though – and sadly it’s not a good one. If you reduce the number of MPs in Parliament without reducing the number of ministers, you increase the power of the executive and make it more difficult to challenge the government. And that in turn will reduce the ability for Parliament to do its job of holding the Government to account.
Finally, the Government talks about the need to ‘make every vote count’ through these changes. Yet the best way to do that is to give us a proportional and fair voting system.
It’s the elephant in the room – and it’s about time it was addressed. If the government really cares about making votes matter, they should concentrate on reforming the voting system.
So this boundary review is flawed on a number of levels – and will have implications for decades to come. It’s time for the Government to think again before pushing through these damaging changes.
This article first appeared on the Electoral Reform Society website, here.