I hope this isn’t what Labour means by sensible debate over Parliamentary boundaries

We’ve heard a lot in recent weeks about how keen the Labour Party is to have sensible debate, careful consideration and proper analysis of the government’s proposals to change the way Parliamentary boundaries are drawn up.

So if you were to take a look at an article just written for a Labour pressure group by a current MP (i.e. one who has been in Parliament whilst the legislation has had all its House of Commons stages) and member of the Labour Party, and published by a Labour pressure group, you’d expect it perhaps to contribute to that serious debate. Or at the very least, not go round myth-making about what the legislation says.

I fear you can guess what I found when I have a look at this piece from Denis MacShane however…

Yup, ‘fraid so. For he declaims how awful it is that the new rules don’t allow consultation over boundaries.

He says,

No other democracy allows electoral district boundaries to be changed without consultation.

And he demands,

The new boundaries need consultation and agreement not executive fiat.

And yet, whilst it’s certainly true the legislation changes the way consultations on new boundaries are carried it, it doesn’t abolish them. The Boundary Commissions are legally obliged to publish proposals, to give people time to send in their views and – if as a result the proposals change – consult once again.

You don’t even have to have read beyond the Bill’s table of contents to know there is consultation in the new system, for one of the headings is:

Boundary Commission proposals: publicity and consultation

Different, as I said, from the existing system which involves public hearings. Are public hearings better? There’s a good debate to be had over that. Having seen how public hearings favour participants who can afford to employ expensive lawyers, and the way they require someone wanting to put their case in person also to be able to withstand close cross-questioning from a lawyer, I think it would be foolish to idolise the old system.

Maybe you agree, maybe you disagree.

But saying it’s awful there is no consultation under the new rules, where there clearly is, doesn’t exactly make for the sort of sensible debate, careful consideration and proper analysis that Labour keep on saying we should have, does it?

Mind you, one thing that can be said in Denis MacShane’s favour, is that at least he didn’t mention Pol Pot.

Note: I’ve updated this post to make clearer that Denis MacShane is a member of the Labour Party and was elected as a Labour MP. However, the whip has currently been withdrawn from him whilst he is being investigated by the police.

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  • Andrea Gill 20th Jan '11 - 9:05am

    Is MacShane still a Labour MP?

  • Joe Anderson 20th Jan '11 - 9:12am

    Nope, don’t think he us. Just another desperate atrwm

  • Joe Anderson 20th Jan '11 - 9:13am

    Sorry typo. Just another desperate attempt to Labour bash!

  • Denis McShane is hugely and embarrassingly irrelevant.

    Please Mark Pack – re-assess LDVs growing immaturity + tribalist policy about the Labour Party.

    It discredits you.

  • David Boothroyd 20th Jan '11 - 9:29am

    Yet another piece on LDV that boils down to “How dare the Labour Party criticize us!”

    The Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill severely cuts down the consultation and local scrutiny of proposed boundary changes at the same time as forcing the Boundary Commission to make radical changes and not allowing it to take account of existing local ties. Clause 12, whose title is quoted by Mark Pack, removes existing legislation requiring comprehensive consultation and replaces it with very restricted consultation arrangements.

  • Scarlet Standard 20th Jan '11 - 9:31am

    MacShane is still an MP, but he is independent at present having had the whip withdrawn over expenses. So the real answer is that no, he is not a Labour MP.

  • Labour’s antics over this Bill have shown pretty conclusively they they arent interested in “sensible debate”. The filibuster is the antithesis of sensible debate.

  • Hi Mark.

    I think you may have answered your question for me…

    Your article is headed:
    I hope this isn’t what Labour means by sensible debate over Parliamentary boundaries

    McShane has had the whip withdrawn. By linking his views to that of the Labour party in general is specious.

  • I see no Iceberg 20th Jan '11 - 9:49am

    There’s consultations, and there’s consultations as those familiar with the new changes to the Nuclear build rules know.

    Fact is it’s one thing to agree to glue two separate bills togerther in a coalition agreement to keep the Conservative backbenchers happy, it’s quite another to get the unweildy two headed beast through the Lords. Nick has kindly helped smooth the way in this by sounding unusually bullish about Lords reform lately.
    A masterful piece of timing considering how the Lords feel about that.

  • RE: Andy Coulson situation.and corruption

    Why are the LibDems completely ignoring such a big issue? Do they not care about corruption? It is obvious to any one following this story that there are VERY serious issues for democracy

    and individuals rights (of not having their phones hacked) if this concerns Lib Dems?

  • David Boothroyd 20th Jan '11 - 2:15pm

    Well Andrew, this was the second comment I’ve made on LDV about the recent dispute over the Bill and neither you nor anyone else has taken any issue with either the facts or the tone of what I’ve said. If you want me to have a rant I’m perfectly willing to do so. Possibly you want me to do that because you’d prefer to just rant back rather than address the facts I’m actually posting.

  • Can anyone tell me what the rationale is behind the use of the number of voters on the electorial register for changes to boundaries rather than number of people living within the boundaries. MP’s have to represent everyone living with their area, not just those who have registered to vote there.

  • mark Wilson 20th Jan '11 - 6:45pm

    Can I please ask question. Whilst I do not believe in the principle of compromise for compromise sake, why is there NO room for manoeuvre on what Lord Falconer is asking for as Lord McNally did not seem to address this on the Daily Politics show?

  • @ Andria Gill, Joe Anderson
    He is an MP elected under the Labour banner with the whip temporarily withdrawn (and it will be reinstated when he is cleared). So a fair comment linking him to Labour, your other concern was only a matter of clarity of language which Mark has cleared up.

    @ Curse
    Mark points out that the claim is factually inaccurate, but accepts that there is still a debate to be had regarding consultation. Not really an immature argument. As to tribalism I don’t think making valid criticisms of members of other parties can classified as that. Partisan by pointing out this a temporally suspended Labour MP, but if partisan blog posts offend you stop reading political blogs.

    I hope you weren’t surprised by the genuinely “immature” and “tribalist” comparisons with Pol Pot just think of the apology one of their chief cheer leaders had to make over her Guardian article or the pantomime dame comparing capping housing benefit to £26,000 with the rape, beating and murder that came from ethnic cleansing in other part of the world. These people do not inhabit reality.

    @ David Boothroyd
    1st paragraph see my first two point.
    2nd paragraph, Good to hear someone actually addressing specific issues with the consultation process, perhaps you could expand a little on the differences. Sadly there has been very little detailed discussion (not helped by claims that there is no consultation) and you appear to have specific concerns about the adequacy. It would be useful to hear more.

    @ Val
    Something you don’t also seem to get is that Liberals also believe in the rule of law, due process. I suspect Coulson is in the phone tapping is up to his neck but the police have investigated once and found no evidence, so until the second investigation finds evidence going on about it is pointless. Or perhaps you weren’t aware that legal protections apply to everyone not just people you like, it’s a pain the human rights thing…

    I believe that the electoral figures are assumed as up to date as it is a living document rather than a Census which can fail to reflect a falling population quickly enough.

  • @Andrew Tennant
    “Voter registration is easy, open to everyone, and readily available; those that want a say in their representation could and should be on the register – it’s equality of opportunity, not outcome.”

    So if there is a rise in voter registration in an area the boundaries would be redrawn again ?

    What about service personel ?

    Often they are registered in their home towns (for practical reasons) but are represented by the MP’s where they serve. Our local MP’s of all flavours work together to represent the interests of our service personnel in addition to their other constituency work.

    There is an argument for using census data and updating boundaries following each census. Thus giving a clear 10 year stability to constituencies and ensuring that MP’s have equal numbers of people to represent rather than to curry votes from.

    On a general point whilst many arguments are patently false in this debate there is very good reason this Bill should be split. In addition to how the numbers are decided upon, there is the issue of geography and the seemingly unfair way in which the exceptions have been decided upon.

    Last night in the Lords Micheal Martin made a good case for a scottish seat to be retained due to both the area it covered and to the poor transport links within it. A much worse case saw the Isle of Wight exempted even though it is a short distance and regular ferry trip to Portsmouth. In my area the Devonwall proposal to link a constiuency over the Tamar will give poor service to both sides as they have divergent needs and are strongly independant of each other. Ask any Cornishman if they want to be in a Devon constiuency or vice versa!!

    The consultation proposals do limit, in my opinion, the role of the public. Local communities such as those I mention here need to know their issues are being heard and not just form an orderly pile of letters in an office somewhere.

    Of course none of these issues would be relevant if we had the chance to vote on a truly proportional system, as we will never have such a system a much longer andmore thought through process should be followed. I would also have preferred a more clear mandate for this section of the bill. The AV vote clearly has one, Labour promised a referendum and with the obvious support of Lib Dems voters this has clear legitimacy. I would have liked to have seen the responses that parties advocating the Devonwall plan would have got on the doorstep and the ballot box.

  • @psi

    That would be fine, but Voter Registation is around 91% of those eligable, with Youth registration (18-24) running at 51% according to the Electorial Commission in March last year, and the same report showing 31% registration for those in Ethnic minorites. That’s 3.5 million plus people ignored by this proposal, typically in urban areas. Is the census data anymore inaccurate? At least the census makes an attempt to capture everyone. Of course, the Tories don’t care, ethnic minorites and the young are hardly their demographics.

  • @Andrew Tennent

    Of course they do, but for whatever reason, they don’t, and they don’t in reasonably large numbers. MP’s have a duty to represent everyone in their constituency, not only those registered to vote, this legislation fails to take into account that.

    We’re due a census this year, the results of which will be known far before the next election, why not use that? As there is a census every 10 years, and hopefully a 2 parilaments on a 5 year cycle, it would seem the census which is a legal obligation would be an ideal tool as opposed to an non-mandatory registration system if equality is the name of the game.

    But obviously you know it’s not. Run along now, be a good little Tory.

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