Read my lips: No seat reduction

I just got back from two days at the Conference in Bournemouth. The absence of discussion of strategy was deafening. However, no less than three people either said to me or mentioned from the dais the reduction of seats from 650 to 600 “which the Tories are going to do”.

I have bemoaned the lack of psephological nous in the party before but, really, some members seem to like to wallow in misery and fantasy.

It is true that the seat reduction as proposed was set to disadvantage us and Labour at the Tory benefit. That is a given. However time and events have moved on.

Let me make this clear. A reduction of 50 seats would take:

  • probably ten in Wales with nine from Labour and one from Tories (where previously the loss would have been one from us)
  • take around five from Scotland which would now be all SNP (and before would have been mainly Labour)
  • the other 35 seats lost would be in England and a very large number of them would now be Tory seats, with a skewing of new seat creation to London (which would favour Labour)

Ergo, with a skinny 12-seat majority (likely be to be reduced over the term via by-elections by 3-5 seats), the Tories would be insane to move towards a net reduction in seats because it would endanger their narrow majority and worse, set off an internecine battle for selection in seats that had been merged or substantially altered.

There will however be a boundary redraw as it’s now massively overdue. This is a process that we can master if we get smart. The Boundary Review Commission (BRC) staff are not Tory lackeys. I met an Isle of Wight councillor who said that the division proposed by the Tories and Labour for the Isle was North/South and he argued for East/West and it was his suggestion that was adopted. Interestingly one of the few relics of the ditched review will almost certainly be a division of the Isle of Wight into two seats (the one seat currently has 110,000 voters).

My point here is that members need to get informed about matters psephological and not leave it to Tories to dominate the consultative sessions for the redraw. We can throw a major spanner in the Tory works and advantage ourselves by arguing for a level playing field.

The BRC will accept logical boundaries if someone argues for them. If we leave it to the Tories (and Labour) we will get more (or less) of what we currently have. There is more to electoral reform than quixotic pursuits of AV, STV and PR.

* Christopher Ecclestone is a town councillor in Andover, Hants. He is the chairman of the Andover branch of the LibDems and was formerly on the Executive of the Winchester branch of the party.

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29 Comments

  • Actually in England it will be the smaller, more urban Labour constituencies most at risk. I am not convinced London will benefit massively either.

    The winners in any reduction in number of seats will be the Conservatives.

  • Laura Gordon 22nd Sep '15 - 1:59pm

    Exactly Colin – ‘London’ might grow, but it’ll be the Tory-leaning suburbs rather than the Labour-leaning central boroughs.

    I’m just waiting to see if the insane proposal for Oxfordshire (which involved one ward on one side of the Thames and the rest of the seat on the other side, with no bridge) is maintained!

  • A Conservative party 12% ahead facing Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour party crippled by the trade union bill may well think the potential advantages of the review outweigh the disadvantages. And if you factor in a handful of tory retirees – possibly including the Prime Minister himself, there are likely to be more than enough winnable seats to go around for Conservatives next time even with a 50 seat reduction and any spares will find a comfortable home in the Lords.

  • Wikipedia has a list of constituencies that is conveniently sortable by population (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_Kingdom_Parliament_constituencies).

    I’m not sure how much tolerance the BRC would have for population imbalance, but the some of the inner London Labour constituencies have had quite strong population growth over 2000-2015.

    Bristol West, Stephen Williams’ old seat, also grew by about 15K over the same period, and it will be interesting to see if anything happens there given the four way spread of the vote at the last election.

  • AIUI the party will not have “major party” standing in several regions as you need either an MP or MEP which will impact on our abilty to make submissions and influence things.

    The issue is not which seats are lost but the impact it has on the seats that remain

  • Andrew McCaig 22nd Sep '15 - 4:26pm

    I hope you are correct Christopher because if the Tories do go ahead and reduce the number of seats it will be very bad for us. Our ultra-targetting strategy means that several of our remaining seats are surrounded by electoral wastelands. For example Leeds NW has only one adjoining ward where we are even in 2nd place. It is now one of the smallest seats in Britain now and even if the number of seats stays at 650, some unfavourable patches will be added with little time to work them.

    If the 2013 boundary review had gone ahead, it would certainly have helped the Tories http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/11593496/New-Commons-boundaries-top-Conservative-government-agenda.html Although the details would have to change the starting point would be the 2013 proposals in many areas. Only where they do not work will the commission start again

    My advice would be to start doing some work in areas surrounding our existing seats and top targets, just in case. It will take several local elections to get from 4th or 5th place into a position where people get used to voting for us.

  • Laurence Cox 22nd Sep '15 - 6:24pm

    It would be good if we could have a sensible redistribution in London. Last time round, the entire London NW proposal from the Lib Dems was skewed by the attempt to retain Sara Teather’s seat. Now we only have Tom Brake in SW London to worry about, our proposals for the rest of London could be based on more logical boundaries.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Sep '15 - 6:37pm

    What’s this nonsense about Lib Dems using the Lords to overrule parliament? It’s a disgrace. I want more seats in parliament, 700 would be good, but the idea that because we don’t like FPTP we can use the Lords is ridiculous.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Sep '15 - 7:27pm

    Lloyd George got his revenge when he was allowed to flood the Lords. What if others don’t agree with PR? Should they use the Lords to block democracy too? Bad precedent.

  • Little Jackie Paper 22nd Sep '15 - 11:57pm

    Simple answer really. Reduce our far-too-big Parliament. We need at most 200 MPs and 75 Lords. Parliament at the moment is bloated. We do not need a 50 seat reduction, we need a 450 seat reduction.

    I’d also have a very strict 3 term limits for all MPs and Lords (and councillors for that matter). An ossified democracy is not a healthy democracy.

    At present I am represented by an MP a number of MEPs, town and county councils, PCC and any number of other things I really can’t be bothered to type out. I am over governed and part of the reason for that is that I am over-represented. Parliament is ripe for cuts.

  • Little Jackie Paper 23rd Sep '15 - 12:02am

    Christopher Ecclestone – On the London point. I’ve got no evidence, but my feeling is that places in the circle surrounding London have probably seen some serious (and arguably unhealthy) population increases. London is, of course, important and changing. But the area in what might be called the, ‘London hinterland,’ also, I suspect, needs to be considered too in that calculation.

  • Well said Caracatus

  • >Simple answer really. Reduce our far-too-big Parliament. We need at most 200 MPs and 75 Lords.

    Well the SNP show one way of achieving this objective. As we’ve seen todate, practically the only real added value the SNP having 56 MPs rather than 1 is when it comes to voting. Hence there is no reason why parties such as the SNP shouldn’t simply have one seat with voting rights for 56. By this method we can probably get representatives of all parties around the kitchen table in 10 Downing St. 🙂

  • Eddie – “What’s this nonsense about Lib Dems using the Lords to overrule parliament?”, “Should they use the Lords to block democracy too? Bad precedent.”

    From memory the (unelected) HoL has been a major force in creating the ‘democracy’ and freedoms we enjoy today. ..

    The LibDems indicated in 2005 that they no longer felt bound by the “Salisbury Convention”, and looking at the rationale behind the convention I agree and would go further to suggest that one of the ways to get HoL reform on to the governments agenda is for the HoL to become a more effective second chamber! So Tim in his announcement that the LibDem lords will try and block the “Right to Buy” is a good first step, he just needs to take a few more…

  • Andrew McCaig 23rd Sep '15 - 3:50pm

    Christopher,

    I am afraid all I see here is some assertions based on a handful of central London seats where the population has increased. Unless you have a mole in the Conservative Party…

    The 600 seat proposal is on the table and will go ahead unless the Tories decide it is not in their interest. I have no doubt that someone in Conservative HQ is busy doing a sophisticated analysis of this. There is no doubt Labour would lose seats in Wales and various other places, and that would need to be balanced by growth of numbers in some urban areas like Hackney. Meanwhile we should not kid ourselves that we can get any boundary review to come out in our favour. Much more sensible to start building votes where we may need them.

    LJP: you may be overgoverned (perhaps) but that is different from being overepresented. Most of the existing constituencies generate more casework than a single MP can easily deal with, especially if they are at all pro-active in representing constituents

  • @ Little Jackie Paper
    “Simple answer really. Reduce our far-too-big Parliament. We need at most 200 MPs and 75 Lords. Parliament at the moment is bloated. We do not need a 50 seat reduction, we need a 450 seat reduction.”

    I disagree. We should be concerned about how easy it is to get elected and how close those elected are to their electorate. Today there are 650 constituencies with an electorate of about 46.5 million, so each MP represents about 71,500 adults. Reducing them will make the situation worse. In 1885 the electorate was about 5.7 million electing 670 MP’s, so each MP represented about 8,500 men. Therefore I would like to see us have one MP for every 15,900 adults and to do this we should be calling 4 or 5 MPs to be elected from each constituency and therefore sizes could range from 63,600 to 79,500. (The Isle of Wight could be one constituency electing 7 MPs. This would increase the number of MPs to 2,925! 🙂

  • Alex Macfie 23rd Sep '15 - 8:27pm

    Roland: There is a LOT more to an MP’s role than voting in the Chamber. So 1 MP with (he voting strength of 56 in NOT the same as 56 MPs with one vote each. Parliament is not an electoral college.

  • @Alex Macfie – “There is a LOT more to an MP’s role than voting in the Chamber. ”
    Totally agree, hence why I caveated my comment and restricted it to voting.
    My dig was at those who happily pluck numbers out of the air without any foundation as to why their number will result in any better democracy than we have now or with any other number being offered. Interestingly, no one is suggesting 427, which is the number of green seats in the Commons Chamber…

  • @ Christopher Ecclestone

    Laurence’s point is a great one (which I didn’t know). When one makes a bogus submission (to save an unsaveable or inherently flawed construct) then our credibility is damaged and the baby goes out with the bathwater. If your construct is flawed (read biased) then there is no moral highground to attack a Tory gerrymander in the locality or even farther afield.

    I don’t know if you are aware of the Liberal Democrat submission regarding Winchester and North West Hampshire, but a member of the NW Hants party suggested it would be a great idea if Whitchurch and Overton were in the Winchester seat. This was included in the Liberal Democrat submission and I don’t remember you being against it during the Hampshire wide discussions on it (I may of course be mistaken). If you were I would have supported you.

  • The seat reduction is in legislation, so the boundary review will be for 600 seats unless there is new legislation to overturn that.

    While a few rebel backbenchers could unite with the opposition parties to vote down a change to 600, that’s not where we are; we’d need to pass a new law without the agreement of the Government. It would have to be a Private Member’s Bill and would struggle for parliamentary time if it’s opposed by the Government. Especially if it’s dependent on a relatively narrow majority from a large number of parties.

    The final result of the boundary review does have to be voted on as secondary legislation – a straight up-or-down vote on an Order in Council. So the whole review can be rejected relatively easily in Parliament, but 650 MPs on new boundaries will be really difficult unless the Tory leadership change their minds on this.

  • @ Christopher Ecclestone
    “Maybe you don’t recall because I wasn’t a member then, I wasn’t in Winchester and I wasn’t even in the country.”

    I didn’t know how long you have been a member. (Only a couple of years then!) So maybe next time and we can have better luck with the Portsmouth boundaries.

  • SIMON BANKS 26th Sep '15 - 8:36am

    I don’t know if Christopher was at the Agenda 2020 discussions. Seemed to me there was some strategy discussion there, and a lot of strategic considerations referred to in debating on various occasions how we reacted to Jeremy Corbyn and the Tory lurch right. No discussion of target seat strategy, of course, but it’s rather early for that.

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