Constituency boundary changes: the case against

Last night’s Commons debate on the Government’s plans to reduce the number of MPs, redraw constituencies and introduce a referendum on the alternative vote – all in one bill – was a lively event. But it didn’t bring out all the details of what this constitutional shake-up might mean.

For that, you could do worse than pore over a confidential Labour Party document on the boundary changes, put together to brief the parliamentary party. Although it’s obviously been written to highlight what Labour sees as the negative effects, the arguments made are backed by evidence and can be objectively assessed.

And it makes for interesting reading. In summary:

  • In order to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600, constituencies will be redrawn so that the number of registered voters in each one is within 5 per cent of a new quota – predicted to be about 75,800 people
  • All other considerations, e.g. landscape, accessibility, shape, are secondary to the quota
  • Three seats are exempted from the rules. Two are Lib Dem (one is Charles Kennedy’s seat of Ross, Skye and Lochaber) and the other is SNP-held. All are in the Scottish Highlands, where the much lower population density would mean otherwise many constituencies would disappear in giant new ones
  • Because there are (according to the Electoral Commission in 2005) 3.5 million unregistered voters in mainly urban areas, and Labour’s strongholds are in inner cities, a redraw on the basis of current electoral roles will (the briefing believes) leave Labour constituencies with more people eligible to vote than Conservative ones

So far it sounds like Labour will be worst off. But hang on.

  • Lib Dem constituencies tend to be more dispersed than Labour or Tory ones which are clumped together. This means  – especially in marginals – they are surrounded by hostile voters
  • So when Lib Dem constituencies are enlarged or incorporated into others, MPs in marginals which aren’t abolished outright risk having their small majorities swamped by Labour/Tory voters – especially if there is a swing, even a small one, against Lib Dems at the next election

On this analysis, Annette Brooke, Lib Dem MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole, should worry. She is defending a majority of 269, has less than 65,000 voters and is entirely surrounded by safe Tory seats.

  • On a worst-case scenario (for the Lib Dems), the briefing estimates they could lose over half their seats at the next election.

Highly subjective of course. But there seems little doubt that redrawing constituency boundaries won’t help the Lib Dems. How many of their MPs are mindful of this as they vote for the bill? And will it come up at their conference in just over a week’s time?

More in Tribune this week.

(from Tribune blog)


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One Response to “Constituency boundary changes: the case against”

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    […]Constituency boundary changes: the case against « René Lavanchy's Blog[…]…

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