Boundary reviews and why we should be interested.

January 31st 2013

Have you ever wondered about some of the key issues that have been in the news and just slip you by? Few days ago two key issues were highlighted in the news firstly, the recent Parliamentary votes to proposed boundary changes and Lewisham Hospital proposed closure of the A & E and Maternity ward.  Boundary change   is that type of subject that may slip by us unlike the Lewisham Hospital proposed closure and restructure. However, the difference between both is that boundary changes matters more to and has the interest of the political elites, while the Lewisham Hospital matters more to residents and affects the need of individuals who are directly affected and also for those who want to capitalise on a political opportunity. For the purpose of this article the focus will be on boundary changes.

House of Commons Vote

House of Commons Vote

The Plans to redraw constituency boundaries before 2015 which is and was  supported by the Conservative party  was  defeated in the House of Commons, where MPs voted by 334 to 292 to accept changes made by peers, meaning the planned constituency shake-up will be postponed until 2018 at the earliest.

The question to be asked is whether or not boundary changes are issues that have the interest of the average man or woman?

Parliament agreed in principle in 2011 to reduce the number of MPs and to redraw the electoral map to make all constituencies roughly the same size in terms of number of voters. Some believe the proposals, which were backed at the time by both coalition parties, would help the Conservatives win up to 20 extra seats at a future election.

Here are a few Questions and Answers for easy digest courtesy of the BBC:

1.    What is the boundary review?

Proposed boundary change map

Proposed boundary change map

Each MP represents an area known as a constituency. The aim of the review is to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and in the process end up with more equal-sized constituencies. The Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Act require the Boundary Commission to submit its first report before 1 October 2013.

2.    What are the main proposals?

The key change is that the number of voters in each constituency will have to be within 5% of 76,641 – this is the figure gained by dividing the UK electorate of 45,678,175 by 596. Exempt from the calculation are four island seats: Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Orkney and Shetland Islands and two for the Isle of Wight.

3.    So will your constituency change?

The proposals have yet to be finalised but there will be extensive changes to constituencies across the UK if the plans go ahead.

4.    How would different parts of the UK be affected?

Under the plans, Wales would lose 10 seats; Scotland would lose seven seats, Northern Ireland two seats and England 31 seats.

5.    Why do the coalition parties disagree on boundary changes?

Cameron and Clegg

Cameron and Clegg

In August 2012, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg admitted defeat over plans for House of Lords reform because of backbench Tory MPs’ opposition to the plans. He said this opposition represented a breach of the coalition agreement between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, so his party would now oppose Tory-championed plans to cut the number of MPs in Parliament.

6.    What does David Cameron say to that?

He says that there is a “fundamental disagreement” between him and Mr Clegg over whether there was any link between House of Lords reform and cutting the numbers of MPs. Mr Cameron says he thinks that the deal was the Lib Dems getting a referendum on changing the voting system to AV (held last year) in return for the Conservatives getting the UK’s constituency boundaries redrawn.

7.    Did Tories and Lib Dems have the changes in their election manifestos?

Yes. The Conservative Party proposed, in their 2010 election manifesto, to cut the number of MPs by 10%. The Lib Dems said in their manifesto they wanted a more radical cut in the number of MPs – from 650 to 500 – but only if a more proportional voting system was introduced to elect MPs.

8.    So how did we end up with the current plan?

After the horse-trading in agreeing the coalition agreement, one bill was brought forward containing two items of constitutional reform dear to the respective parties’ hearts. The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act ushered in a referendum on introducing the alternative vote system, a cherished project of the Lib Dems which was rejected by voters in May 2011. The Conservatives made it a condition of the act that there would also be a review of constituency boundaries which would also cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600.

9.    Where do the parties stand on the issue?

The Conservatives are the largest party and they support the idea. Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists have said they are in favour but it is not clear whether they will vote to delay the plans. Labour and the Lib Dems have both said they will vote against the plans. The SNP, Plaid Cymru, the SDLP and the Green Party have all expressed their opposition to boundary changes, making it unlikely that a majority of MPs could be found to vote for the reforms.

10.    What is the case for redrawing boundaries?

One argument for reducing the number of seats is that it will make Parliament less expensive. The government claims it could save £12 million a year. Supporters of reform say that achieving greater parity between constituencies will make elections fairer. At present, more votes tend to be needed to elect a Conservative MP than to elect a Labour MP. The system is weighted in favour of Labour, it is said. Some critics of the current electoral layout say Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are over-represented when populations there are falling and parts of southern England are under-represented since its population is rising.

11.    What do the plans’ opponents say?

Labour has accused the Conservatives of “gerrymandering” – manipulating constituencies in order to achieve electoral advantage. The areas set to lose the fewest seats tend to vote Conservative in large numbers, while some regions such as Wales, which would lose a larger proportion of its seats, tend to have more Labour voters. Labour MPs have also pointed out that the review has been carried out swiftly compared to other such reports and that electoral quotas do not take account of people who are missing from the electoral register. MPs from several parties share the view that the shake-up would disrupt historic demarcations and local loyalties. Lib Dems, including the deputy prime minister, have said that reducing the number of MPs without reforming the Lords gives too much strength to the executive.

Sylbourne Sydial

Sylbourne Sydial

From my perspective it seems that this is an issue that is at the heart of the democratic process and should be of interest to every man and woman in this country or rather every voter who believes in exercising their right to vote.

To find out more about the proposed boundary changes see link http://www.boundarychanges.co.uk/

Sylbourne Sydial

February 01, 2013

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