The Parliamentary Boundary Review is continuing.

 

If you want to win a parliamentary seat at the next General Election start thinking about the new parliamentary boundaries.

Seasoned political campaigners understand the importance of the boundaries.  Any area that is divided up into electoral districts has to have lines drawn somewhere.  Moving a village between this or that constituency can make all the difference to who wins and who loses. Sometimes changes are so significant that new constituencies are radically different to their predecessors.

In 2011, Parliament amended the Parliamentary Constituency Act 1986. There were two main changes: 650 MPs would be reduced to 600 and constituencies will be more similar in size of electorate.

The latter reform, for closer parity, should be welcome in principle.  Every citizen deserves equal power. In whichever constituency I live my vote should by one similarly sized share of the total to be cast.  My neighbour in another constituency should not have significantly more or less voting power in his area than I do in mine.

The reduction in the number of MPs has less to commend it, for now. The argument for reduction is that Parliament is overlarge compared to the equivalent bodies in other democracies. But a reduction in number of MPs will tend to exacerbate the under-representation of small parties.  If you are a small party, First Past the Post already ensures you will get many fewer seats than would properly represent your party’s overall support across the country. To get any seats there have to be areas where your level of support is considerably at positive variance with your average support.  In simple terms, the bigger the seats are the more unlikely it will be that such unusually high variances from the average can occur.

It is for that reason that democrats should only support a reduction in the size of the Commons  in the context of a wider political reform: a fairer voting system and reform of campaign finance laws.  It was because of the broken promises of Conservatives on House of Lords Reform that Liberal Democrats stopped the 2013 Boundary Reviews taking effect.

In 2016, the process began for Boundary Reviews to be completed in 2018.  People commonly speak of “the boundary review” but this is wrong. The 2011 Act creates four reviews: one for each of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

A draft set of new parliamentary boundaries was created. The English proposals are here. There were consultation periods in September 2016 and March 2017.

The expectation was that these new boundaries would take effect for the anticipated 2020 General Election.

People are asking what happen now that another General Election has intervened?  Will the process start from scratch again?

The 2018 Boundary Review is continuing. The 1986 Act (as amended in 2011) compels the review process to continue.  The Boundary Review for England have confirmed this and stated that they are presently considering responses to the March 2017 consultation.

The Review will then publish final proposals.  These will be laid before Parliament in an Order in Council in September 2018. This is mandated in s. 3(2) of the Act.  If Parliament does not vote to block the proposed new boundaries they will, as a matter of law, take effect for any General Election after that date (whether in 2022 or before).

The Tories lost their majority. Is there any chance of Parliament not passing the new boundaries?

This is more of a political than a legal or constitutional question.  Some people suggest the DUP may not like the proposed new boundaries and so will vote them down.  I don’t know enough about NI politics to know if new boundaries will or will not suit the DUP.

However, it is a fallacy to suggest “the DUP will vote the Review down.”  There are 4 reviews.  When they are laid before Parliament it will be open to the Conservative-DUP majority to bock the Northern Ireland proposals to keep the DUP on side, but pass the proposals for England, Scotland and Wales.  The Tories have a vested interest in doing so.  The DUP have a vested interest in the Tories.

David Steel famously asked the party to “go back to your constituencies and prepare for government”.

Unless you think there will be General Election before September 2018 (which appears very unlikely) then you would be well advised to go back to you new constituencies.

 

* Antony Hook was #2 on the South East European list in 2014, is the English Party's representative on the Federal Executive and produces this sites EU Referendum Roundup.

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25 Comments

  • David Evershed 3rd Aug '17 - 11:15am

    One of the constraints imposed on the Boundary Commission is that constituencies should not cross EU election region boundaries.

    Since we are leaving the EU there will no longer be EU elections and this is an unnecessary constraint.

    For example, to avoid going across an EU election boundary, the fast growing Milton Keynes is forced to push some of its excess electorate into the fast growing Buckingham Constituency, which is forced to push some excess electorate into the fast growing Aylesbury constituency, which is forced to push ………..

    And so on through Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and beyond. So constituencies in the growing South East which currently have the right number of electors are being unnessarily disrupted by an irrelevant EU election related boundary. Instead the MK excess electorate could be absorbed in lower growth areas away from the South East but over the EU election region boundary.

  • John Nicholson 3rd Aug '17 - 11:38am

    The argument that “Parliament is overlarge compared to the equivalent bodies in other democracies” is especially fatuous when you consider that other democracies have stronger local government that we do. Over the last 30 years or so, central government has continually interfered with and overruled local government, leaving it it significantly weakened. This particular proposal is aimed at one thing only: Strengthening the hand of the Executive against all other parts of our democracy. It is not really surprising that the Tories want to do it, and we should oppose them every way we can.

  • David Becket 3rd Aug '17 - 1:10pm

    Are we sure this will happen? Turkeys do not vote for Christmas and a significant number of Tory and Labour Turkeys will find Christmas is upon them.
    We should not support tinkering with boundaries when a complete review of the voting system is required.
    More importantly the government should be tackling the obscene 820+ unelected members of the House of Lords and convert it to an efficient elected second chamber.

    Let us campaign to ditch this proposal and do the job properly.

  • Electrol Calculus website predicted that if GE 2017 had used new boundaries then DUP would have only won 7 instead of 10 seats with SF overtaking them with 8. Cant see DUP agreeing on the NI proposals. Does not seem right that DUP could stop the reform in NI but help inflict it everywhere else!

  • Andrew McCaig 3rd Aug '17 - 2:24pm

    Afzal Khan (new MP for Manchester Gorton possibly thanks to Theresa calling her snap election) came third in the Private Members ballot and is proposing a bill on this issue. No details but since it is supported by Alistair Carmichael and Caroline Lucas (together with SNP, Plaid and Sylvia Hermon, the latter perhaps indicating the Unionist view?) most people imagine it will get rid of the reduction in constituencies. The government may kick it into the long grass of course but I suspect that will depend on whether they think they can get the boundary review through parliament.

    “However, it is a fallacy to suggest “the DUP will vote the Review down.” There are 4 reviews. When they are laid before Parliament it will be open to the Conservative-DUP majority to bock the Northern Ireland proposals to keep the DUP on side, but pass the proposals for England, Scotland and Wales. ”
    I have seen this contradicted elsewhere, and I think because the Act provides for a reduction in seats to 600 across the whole of the UK, if the reduction from 18 to 16 in NI is rejected the whole thing will fail

    Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill

    Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

    Afzal Khan, supported by Joanna Cherry, Hannah Bardell, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Liz Saville Roberts, Lady Hermon and Caroline Lucas, presented a Bill to amend the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 to make provision about the number and size of parliamentary constituencies in the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes.

    Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 1 December, and to be printed (Bill 9).

  • Andrew McCaig 3rd Aug '17 - 2:32pm

    David Evershed,
    You are correct that insistence on following the regional boundaries causes problems, and the ridiculous proposals for Sheffield Hallam are an example, but the reluctance of the Boundary Commission for England to split local election wards is the main problem (even though district wards are often split between two County Divisions)
    In Scotland they are more pragmatic and wards are often split between two Westminster or Holyrood constituencies.

    So I don’t think we need to leave the EU to solve this problem!

  • Laurence Cox 3rd Aug '17 - 3:00pm

    @David Evershed
    In London, the Boundary Commision decided in their wisdom that they would only treat the rivers Thames and Lea as natural boundaries and that apart from avoiding cross-river constituencies as far as possible they would just aggregate whole wards to create constituencies within the electorate limits. I argued at the first consultation for including main railway lines as natural boundaries as their development preceded almost all of the housing in outer London. In fact, these are very often ward boundaries and it is where wards cross them that there is a justification for splitting a ward between two constituencies. Had they done this they could have achieved the equalisation of the constituency sizes with much fewer changes. Unfortunately, London wards are so large that moving a single ward will take a constituency from below the minimum permitted electorate to above the maximum permitted electorate, meaning that any change requires the moving of multiple wards. In Harrow, under the Boundary Commission’s plans we are moving from 3 constituencies (2 entirely within Harrow and 1 shared with Hillingdon) to 4 constituencies (1 entirely within Harrow, 1 shared with Hillingdon and 2 shared with Brent).

  • Chris Rennard 3rd Aug '17 - 5:32pm

    The basis of the legislation changing the way in which Boundary Reviews are conducted (reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600, disregarding existing constituency boundaries in the first subsequent Review, and providing for Reviews then to take place every five years) was what the Conservatives wanted in the coalition in return for the AV referendum. I believe that we were ill advised to accept all this (in fact we even proposed the Review at the start of the coalition talks).
    It was wrongly claimed that the size of the House of Commons had grown significantly with previous Reviews. The number of MPs grew only from 640 in 1945 to 650 in 2010, while in that 65-year period the electorate grew by more than 12 million voters. The principle of more equal sized constituencies is of course correct. But that principle also requires everyone being registered to vote if they are entitled to be so. It was failure to achieve this which I cited (together with failure to achieve Lords Reform) when I acted in 2013 to block implementation of new boundaries then. This is what I said in the debate: http://bit.ly/2vtm3q3. If implemented for 2015, we might only have won 4 or 5 seats, and if implemented for the first time in 2017, perhaps 7 (according to Electoral Calculus).
    Anthony is not, however, quite correct that the four sets of Boundary Commission proposals will be voted on separately when laid before both Houses after September 2018. The 2011 legislation changed previous practice, so that they are voted on together. If, however, they are voted down, then the Government can come back with a new Order which might for example provide for the four reports to be treated differently and that is what the DUP (big losers in the current proposals) might demand.

  • Andrew McCaig 3rd Aug '17 - 7:10pm

    Chris,
    How do you answer my point that the legislation provides for a 600 seat House and if you throw out only the NI changes you end up with 602?

  • Andrew McCaig 3rd Aug '17 - 7:14pm

    Btw I could see that reducing the size of the House of Commons would be bound to hurt the Lib Dems and was not surprised when the Tories wanted it and we didn’t in the last Parliament. Allowing it onto the agenda was another way the Tories managed to outmanoeuvre us in Coalition but breaking the Pledge was much worse…

  • Chris Rennard 3rd Aug '17 - 7:36pm

    @Andrew The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act (2011) did provide for a 600 member House of Commons, but the amendment in 2013 (see above) provided for this to be delayed for 5 years, so a relevant amendment to electoral legislation (or the passing of the Private Members Bill described above) could change all this. It seems, however, that failure to approve the Order implementing all four reports would give the Government the right to introduce an alternative Order and seek support for it. This might, for example, ‘delay’ the NI Order for 5 years pending other reviews etc……

  • @ Andrew McCaig “Afzal Khan (new MP for Manchester Gorton possibly thanks to Theresa calling her snap election)”…………………. Come off it, Andrew. Alice in Wonderland stuff.

    Afzal Khan got a near 32,000 majority……and not many months ago I remember some folk claiming we were going to win a by-election there. As recently as 17 April Party HQ were forecasting we would win that seat :

    The Guardian 17 April : “a briefing for senior Lib Dem officials and campaigners – written by deputy director of campaigns Dave McCobb – says the party’s messages on Brexit, including calls for a second referendum on the outcome of negotiations, are winning over voters in a seat where more than 60% voted remain in last June’s Brexit referendum.

    McCobb says the Lib Dems are making up ground fast and are on 31%, with Labour on 51% – a level of support that is, he says, “running well ahead of where we were in the Witney byelection [where the party leapfrogged Labour and Ukip to come second in October last year in David Cameron’s former seat] and approaching Richmond Park levels of support at this stage.”

    Ahhhem…… is this the quality of advice our Leaders got when I was continuously asked to DONATE ? In fact we came fourth behind George Galloway with just over 5%.

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Aug '17 - 10:28pm

    Candidates and agents considering boundaries should also recall Shirley Williams’ comments about the boundary review that followed her win in the Crosby by-election.
    It was assumed that if Conservative and Labour submissions to the Boundary Commission agree it must be all right.
    Whereas they both had an interest in preventing Shirley Williams being re-elected.

  • Graham Jeffs 4th Aug '17 - 8:34am

    The point about the impact of transferring a single ward in or out of a constituency in terms of minimum/maximum numbers surely emphasises another problem.

    Multi-member wards are in themselves negative in terms of engaging truly local electorates and communities because all too often people feel that they can’t make a difference for their community. This is because in many instances (say in a three seat ward) the one third’s representation will be decided by the other two thirds. No wonder turnout is poor – why bother if there is no true feeling of local ownership?!

    Multi-member wards should all be abolished. In so doing, not only would “local” democracy be better served, but options in terms of creating constituencies could be increased.

  • Gordon Lishman 4th Aug '17 - 9:51am

    The rigidity imposed by the maximum 5% variation has a major effect in detaching Parliamentary representation from any sense of local community and other representative structures. For instance, it will increase the number of local newspapers covering different bits of a constituency. It also means that the outcome is entirely different depending on where geographically the Commossion starts its work. It’s bad for democracy, bad for local representation and particularly bad for LibDems who are likely to have strong links with distinct communities. The percentage variation allowed should be at least 10% with ex rations allowed both ways.
    Bet of It makes it more likely that national swing will determine outcomes and will diminish

  • Graham Jeffs 4th Aug '17 - 3:11pm

    @Simon Shaw

    ‘All up’ elections could have their downside, albeit I would have thought that single seat wards would, by themselves, do much to boost local democracy – and that is surely something to be valued.

    However, why feel committed to ‘All-Up’ elections simply because one has single member seats! Why not simply have a third of the single member seats coming up for election every three years?

  • Denis Mollison 4th Aug '17 - 9:30pm

    @Chris Rennard – “The principle of more equal sized constituencies is of course correct. ”
    @Graham Jeffs – “Multi-member wards should all be abolished.”

    “equal-sized constituencies” (meaning equal numbers of electors) – what could be fairer than that? Well, if they’re FPTP constituencies, the answer is that almost anything else would be fairer. “Equalisation” as a principle is a Conservative scam: it gives a thin veneer of apparent fairness to a deeply unfair system. Few would want to go back to the huge discrepancies of pre-19th century Parliament, but most voters are quite happy to have some variability in electorates if it means that their constituency has meaningful boundaries. For example, I am lucky in that my constituency coincides with my local authority (East Lothian); if the numbers changed, such that it was either 20% too large or too small, I would rather keep that boundary than get mixed in with fragments of the next-door council; and it makes good sense in representation if the MP has a natural community to relate too rather than a mash-up of bits of various LGAs. Notoriously, the reduced flexibility of the current review is set to introduce for the first time a mixed Cornwall/Devon constituency. Better still of course to have a fairer multi-member system, under which Cornwall would most likely be a single constituency with 4 or 5 members.

    Graham’s criticism of multi-member wards is reasonable under FPTP. But in Scotland and Northern Ireland we already use multi-member wards to implement proportional representation using STV. We should not be abolishing 3-member ward elections or staggering them to 1 per year; we should be using a sensible system so that they elect 3 members that represent the spread of views of their electorates.

  • Graham Jeffs 5th Aug '17 - 11:30am

    @ Denis Mollison

    I envy you Denis in living somewhere where there is commonality of boundaries. What you say re FPTP is fair comment, but here we are stuck with it and so single member wards would at least be an improvement in terms of sensitivity to genuinely local issues.

    I don’t suppose, at number 20 in this thread, that this will now be read by anyone who cares – and almost certainly not by anyone prepared to help. But I’m stuck in a constituency where there are 4 separate “parties” each part of the four District Council parties that in part cover the constituency. At the last GE, because there is no separate constituency party (and creating one is being obstructed, I feel) we were not allowed to know who the members are in the other 3 Districts because of ‘data protection’ issues.

    So much for working together! A fine recipe for motivating people! I ask myself why I bother.

  • Antony Watts 5th Aug '17 - 12:32pm

    We are staying the EU, aren’t we LibDems?

    So we need to align our MPs with EU MPs. In fact better solution would be to elect oour MPs then send a bunch of them to EU Parliament in Brussels: they can commute BLondon and report back/liase/coordinate etc

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Aug '17 - 7:28pm

    David Raw,
    Did you go canvassing in Manchester Gorton?
    I did, and 31% seemed quite realistic to me. The General Election changed everything..

  • Andrew McCaig 5th Aug '17 - 7:40pm

    Graham Jeffs

    I have always lived in metropolitan areas with 3 member wards and an election every year (except one, and that is a foolish relic of the abolition of counties)

    No ward should be without an election for 3 or 4 years in my view. It is only elections that keep political parties and councillors on there toes. The ward I am working in has one of each councillor now. I want to get back to 3 Lib Dems of course, but if I was a neutral local I would recognise the current situation means all the Parties are interested and more things get done..
    Having to wait three or for years for each election would be very dispiriting for me as an activist…

  • Graham Jeffs 6th Aug '17 - 4:24pm

    Andrew McCaig

    I would suggest that all too often multi-member wards actually represent party block votes. Getting a mixture of political allegiances elected is much less likely than if the wards were broken down into single wards – representing communities rather than administrative slabs of electors.

  • David Murray 8th Aug '17 - 10:04am

    Anthony Hook’s article states that “final proposals” will be based on the March 2017 consultation. This is not true. ‘Revised Proposals’ will be published this autumn, with a further 8-week consultation on these running into December 2017. Final Proposals will be based on the submissions to this consultation, and submitted to Parliament in September 2018. I would urge everyone with concerns about their area to take part in this next consultation, whether or not the proposals are rejected by Parliament in October 2018.

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