Paul Tyler writes: What would Keynes do?

Amidst all the sound and fury (from the Conservative benches), about the delay in implementing boundary changes, agreed by a substantial majority in the Lords last Monday evening, one important argument seems to have got lost.

When Labour left office in May 2010, we were given to understand that the electoral register was some 92% complete.  Parliament decided in the discussions on the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill that this was a sufficiently robust basis for the redrawing of constituencies along strict arithmetic lines.

Subsequently, research by the Electoral Commission established that it was nothing like as complete.  Nationally, the figure was only some 82%, and (significantly) drilling-down on the situation in a number of inner-city areas like Glasgow and central London, showed that one in four voters might be missing in those parts of the country.  The national discrepancy was bad enough, but wide range of accuracy figures – which is almost certainly got even worse in the last two year s- calls into question the whole validity of the process?  To proceed with the wholesale re-drawing of boundaries, at vast expense, on this basis would have been irresponsible.

Meanwhile, the authoritative and independent British Academy has warned that with “approximately 6 million eligible voters…missing from the register, most likely to be young people, students, members of some ethnic minority groups, those who live in converted properties or those do not own their own properties, [this] could lead to an under-representation of urban areas in the electoral map currently being prepared by the Boundary Commission for the 2015 general election.

Conservative party tacticians appear to think that the current boundaries distort the electoral process.  The scale of this is tiny compared with the way in which Lib Dem voters are under-represented.  When the Commons considers this issue again on 29th January, let’s hope that these hard facts are central to the debate.

Given that the factual basis for our decisions on the previous bill was founding wanting, we should recall the wise words of that great Liberal, John Maynard Keynes, “when the facts change, I change my mind.  What do you do, sir?”

* Paul Tyler is the Liberal Democrat spokesman in the Lords on constitutional reform issues

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9 Comments

  • I understood the LibDems would have voted for the boundary changes if Lords reform had been passed. Are you saying you would have put aside your concerns about the completeness of the Register in order to vote for the boundary changes, or are you saying you would never have voted for them anyway?

  • Boundary changes were always a Conservative tactic to nullify Labour’s strength in urban Britain. It would have led to anomalies such as my Bradford constituency being lumped into a Leeds one: that may have made sense from a population point of view, but it ignores the differing needs and histories of the two cities. The facts haven’t really changed: they’ve always been there – I’m glad we’re opposing the changes now, but the best move would have been to be correct from the beginning.

  • Geoffrey Payne 22nd Jan '13 - 12:54pm

    It would be good if the government were to make a better effort in getting people on the electoral register before it does anything else. I would like to have seen something about that in the article.

  • Wise words of that great Liberal? He supported eugenics and was head of the eugenics society. Why is he always talked about as a hero? I have read that Keynes thought eugenics far more important than economics. Beveridge of course was also heavily involved, the welfare act not quite going the way he wanted especially with child benefit. The labour movement scuppered their plans.

  • Sid Cumberland 23rd Jan '13 - 2:04pm

    Lots of people supported eugenics before the consequences became as obvious as they are to us.

  • Leekliberal 23rd Jan '13 - 6:09pm

    ‘Beveridge of course was also heavily involved, the welfare act not quite going the way he wanted especially with child benefit. The labour movement scuppered their plans.’ says Anne. How right Beveridge was with his principle of contributary health insurance. I have 3 inches thickness of paper in my file on Labour’s bureaucratic child benefit system! What an appalling waste of resources spent on a benefit subsidising many people who were well off!

  • @lekliberal.
    Beveridge wanted the lower class poor to have less child benefit and the middle classes more to encourage them to have more children. He believed that they would have more intelligent children. He therefore believed in subsidising the well off!

  • The whole exercise of boundary changes is to correct an unfair voting system. The movement of boundaries can cut across communities or combine distinctly different constituencies into a single seat with great sections of electors feeling unrepresented.

    I still think we can achieve proportional representation (single transferable vote) if we as LDs put the case.
    The STV will possible be best to solve this situation.
    Larger constituencies may combine distinctly different districts but with multiple members elected proportionally will give most sections a local representative they can turn to.
    The problem is other parties see systems such as the current FPTP system as a short cut to office.

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