As today’s Evening Standard reports, the government is planning to put both an AV referendum and reducing the number of MPs in the same Parliamentary bill, thereby making it harder for any possible rebels to unpick this part of the coalition agreement compromise.
For many the Conservatives, reducing the number of MPs and accompanying that with a speeded up boundary review which is completed before 2015 is an important consolation for the risk (as they see it) of the voting system being changed. That’s because on many estimates the net effect on the proportion of Conservative MPs of the boundary review and AV will be pretty much to balance out with the gains from the former matched by the loses from the latter.*
Agreeing to reduce the number of MPs is the easy part; working out how to speed up the usual boundary review process so that the reduction comes into force by 2015 is harder.
Boundary reviews are one of those processes that seem obviously far too slow. We’ve just had an election with new boundaries – which were drawn up in a process starting with data from 2000. However, working out how to speed up the process without either risking its impartiality or freezing out meaningful consultation is not a trivial task.
It is a task the Conservative Party has been working on the details of for several years. That work included consulting academic experts ahead of the general election and even provisionally sounding out other parties on what processes might or might not get cross-party agreement (even if there is disagreement over how big or small the Commons should be).
That preparatory work should now pay dividends not only for the Conservatives but also for those who want an AV referendum to happen.
* Myself, I’m very sceptical about any estimates made of how parties will perform under AV because the introduction of a new voting system means the public may starts behaving in different ways. For example, when the London Assembly was introduced in 2000 with its regional PR element, people’s voting patterns changed significantly as pe0ple became much more willing to vote for minor parties on the PR list ballot paper. Similarly, knowing what people currently say their second preference would be under AV is a pretty poor guide as to whether faced with a campaign fought under AV their first preferences will stay the same or change.